Honor, Face, and Violence

Cross-Cultural Literary Representations of Honor Cultures and Face Cultures

by Mine Krause (Author) Yan SUN (Author) Michael Steppat (Author)
©2020 Monographs XX, 304 Pages
Series: Cross Cultural Communication, Volume 34


Honor-related values are a source of gendered inequality and of violence. In so-called honor cultures, traditionally located in parts of the Middle East, Mediterranean regions, North Africa, and South America, honor translates into women’s roles as dictated by family ideology. There is a direct link between male reputation and the female body. In these matters, East Asian face cultures are similar to but also different from honor cultures. For the first time, this book studies literary together with sociological representations of the loss of honor and of face. Fiction explores honor-based values which impose shackles not only on female but also on male society members. The book is endorsed with prefaces by Turkish writer Sema Kaygusuz and Chinese scholar Ma Chi.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Divisive values
  • Marginal or representative conditions? (I)
  • Marginal or representative conditions? (II)
  • Are writers instruments of a power system?
  • Critical grievances
  • Losing the referent
  • Marginal or representative conditions? (III)
  • Speaking about the Other?
  • Between dignity and honor: A troubled heritage
  • A countertextual imaginary
  • Re-examining ourselves
  • 1. Honor cultures
  • Introduction to honor cultures: Gender-specific, collectivistic honor
  • 1.1 Sources of female honor violation
  • 1.1.0 Mothers and disobedient daughters
  • 1.1.1 Lost virginity before marriage
  • 1.1.2 Immoral behavior in public
  • 1.1.3 The “manless” woman
  • 1.1.4 Infidelity
  • 1.1.5 Mothers and their illegitimate daughters
  • 1.1.6 Infertility or absence of a son
  • 1.1.7 Rape
  • 1.1.8 Drinking women
  • 1.1.9 Homosexuality
  • 1.2 Sources of male honor violation
  • 1.2.0 Mothers and dishonored sons
  • 1.2.1 Lack of virility
  • 1.2.2 The sonless man
  • 1.2.3 Infidelity
  • 1.2.4 Illegitimate sons
  • 1.2.5 Material failure
  • 1.2.6 Alcoholism
  • 1.2.7 Homosexuality
  • 2. Face cultures
  • Introduction to face cultures: Lian and miàn-zi
  • 2.1 Loss of female honor
  • 2.1.1 Disobedience
  • 2.1.2 Infidelity and rape
  • 2.1.3 Infertility
  • 2.1.4 Jealousy
  • 2.1.5 Divorce
  • 2.2 Loss of male honor
  • 2.2.1 Hierarchical obligations
  • 2.2.2 Disloyalty
  • 2.2.3 Further forms of honor loss
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Parents and (dis)obedient daughters
  • (Dis)obedient wives
  • Lost virginity before marriage
  • Immoral behavior in public
  • The “manless” woman
  • Infidelity
  • Illegitimate children
  • Infertility or absence of a son
  • Rape
  • Drinking women
  • Homosexuality (mainly female)
  • Lack of virility
  • Public dimension of violence
  • Jealousy
  • Honor/wealth/performative identity
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names
  • Series index


Mine Krause

I would like to thank my parents who brought me up in an interculturally rich, Turkish-German environment, awoke my thirst for knowledge and have never ceased to feed it; my friends all around the world for their emotional support, precious feedback and their constructive criticism; all those writers who have opened their minds and hearts to help me discover different cultural worlds, among them Sema Kaygusuz, who has kindly agreed to write a preface to this book and patiently answered all my questions; her literary agent Yeşim Vesper, who has always had an open ear and shared relevant materials with me; Négar Djavadi, who sent me the English translation of her novel Désorientale and provided me with insights into Iranian culture; Ayfer Tunç, who has discussed her novel Yeşil Peri Gecesi in detail with me. I regret that I cannot cite everybody, but am deeply grateful to all of you.

Yan Sun

I have had the chance of working as a research scholar in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York, which has reshaped my perception of the combined law and literature research field. This book was inspired by academic communications at many workshops, seminars, and conferences at John Jay. I am very thankful to Dr. Veronica Hendrick for her enlightening suggestions and for her efforts to make the visit possible.

The Intercultural Institute at Shanghai International Studies University has also been very resourceful. Director Steve J. Kulich has invited prestigious researchers to give lectures that have greatly benefited the book.

Michael Steppat

I have been able to enjoy several visiting Fellowships at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, which have greatly facilitated the research for this book. I am most grateful to directors Dr. Edward Widmer and then Dr. John Haskell for making this possible. The book has benefited from many discussions with the scholars from all over the world at the Kluge Center, as well as at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

←ix | x→

The Intercultural Institute at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) has provided the anchor and the intellectual support which the book project has needed, enabling many fruitful sessions and discussions at SISU and also at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. These have helped in gaining a better understanding of our book’s topic.

Last but by no means least, I am especially grateful to my very dear Val for her untiring patience and encouragement during the whole period of this book’s composition, which has absorbed so much of my sustained attention.

←x | xi→


Mary’s suffering as “Nómos”

In the last religious myths that we have heard about, the first woman whose “namus” (purity/chastity) was questioned is Mary. We know her as a virgin who conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. However, among the first Christians, her status was a completely different one. At this time, God was not yet the king of the heavens, the ruling master, the legislator of a hierarchical church organization. Rather, the notion of God also included the eternal feminine spirit: the feminine wisdom within this cosmic creator protected its place in the ancient civilization as an element of multiplicity within the “one.” Although in today’s Istanbul the gigantic basilica Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία/Hagía Sofía) was built on a pagan temple (which nobody ever mentions) and bears the meaning of “sacred feminine wisdom” in its name, this sacred representation of the woman has long been forgotten.

From Gnostic texts that were found in 1954 in the cave of Nag Hammadi (Egypt), we know how Mary and her feminine wisdom have been completely wiped out from the earth’s dominant culture. Coming from Ancient Greek, the expression gnōstikos means knowledge and enlightenment. There was no need for an Ulama class or a temple in the Gnostics’ world of faith which would later be accused of heresy by revisionist Christian ideologues. They defended the idea of God as being a pre-eminently inner experience, thus opposing a standardization which might happen during the process of teaching religion. God was one’s own skin, awareness, dream, intuition, desire. In order to possess gnosis (just as it was the case with the Qalandariyyah as a counter-movement against Orthodox Islam throughout history), neither intermediaries, monarchs, imams, bishops, nor priests were required. God was an eternal father and mother figure within reach, who at the same time was characterized by a human simplicity. Over the centuries, this place was taken over by a punishing, ruling, commanding, male-shaped God. It is important to recall here that the expression “anthropomorphic” has evolved from the Greek anthropos, which characteristically denotes a man, just like the prefix in “anthropology,” “anthroposemiotic,” or “anthropocentric,” giving these words a clearly “masculine” connotation. While Orthodox Christians cursed the early Gnostics and deleted them from their teachings, the tradition to which they adhered was Judaism, which considered God the Absolutely Other ←xi | xii→(cf. Buber and also Levinas).1 The discrimination against women “committed” by a God who listens to Orthodox Jewish men praying “Blessed are you, LORD our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman”2 is certainly closed to debate in many cultures.

However, as a consolation it should be said that some things appear to change in various places today. I do not know whether Elizabeth Jane Holden Lane’s appointment as a British Anglican bishop, the rediscovery of the feminine spirit in early Christianity, or the fact that the Gospel of Mary, which is full of erotic symbols and feminine images of God, has been translated into so many languages are in some way indirectly related. Yet, a woman as a “head of the church” remains a member of a systematized structure within the limits of masculine domination. It would probably be more cautious to see a female bishop as a modern achievement, rather than a women’s revolution. After all, the irreparable emptiness resulting from great losses which we have been suffering throughout the adventures of humankind is haunting us in the form of our painful history. The words of the Apostle Paul still have a certain effect: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).3

In the religion of Islam, the whole situation is undoubtedly not favorable to women. Many Muslim clerics directly threaten women’s human rights with their outrageous speeches and humiliating rhetoric in public spaces, on television programs, in mosques. Their greatest concern is to regulate women’s social lives, from their sexuality to their marriage, from the inheritance law to everyday life, while – with the help of the Qur’anic text and hadith quotes – always keeping in mind men’s main interests. It might be sufficient to give only one example from the Qur’an, without mentioning the traditions summarized in hadith which regard women as dirty, satanic, and inferior in Islamic culture:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g., their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.). As to those women on whose part you see ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them ←xii | xiii→(lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). (Surah An-Nisa [4:34])4

The reason why I have briefly described the patriarchal understanding of the three celestial religions coming from the Abrahamic tradition is the initially religious characteristic of the word “namus.” As explained in this book, “namus” can have different meanings ranging from sexual honor, collective honor, dignity, pride, to chastity and modesty. However, “namus” is predominantly the responsibility of women, whereas men are rather “completed” by “şeref” (male honor), keeping dignity, pride, and virility in reserve. For instance, the expression “erdem” in the sense of “virtue” is a purely masculine word. In Turkish, “er-” is a part of “erkek” (i.e., “man”), while “virtue” in English is derived from Latin “virtus” which defines the high moral qualities of men. In this respect, even words like “virtual” and “virtuoso” are completely related to men. But let’s get back to the actual notion of “namus”: women are without any doubt paying the social price of this un-world-ly, non-human word. After all, the woman not only has to carry her own but also the man’s “namus,” according to the laws handed down from the heavens.

If we go back to the origins of this word, we can get a glimpse of a rather creepy landscape that shows how male-dominated morals have covered the culture of the whole world. “Namus” has roots in many languages. Some theologians claim that it comes from the Greek expression “νόμος/nómos,” meaning “law,” while others think that it was used to refer to the first part of the Jewish Bible, the Torah. It is said that the form used by Islamic historian Waraka ibn Nawfal comes from Syriac, and that Muslims matched this use with one by the archangel Gabriel (see Fuat Aydın). Interestingly, this expression, which we can find in Arabic pre-Islamic poetry, does not exist in the Qur’an, which shares the same language tradition, but was frequently used in the hadith literature as the main source of Islamic theology. The story of an alleged revelation recorded by Waraka ibn Nawfal (a contemporary of prophet Muhammad) as narrated in classic Islamic sources is very striking. While describing how a revelation came to him, the prophet tells his wife Khadija that he is afraid of what has happened to him. Khadija, who finds it difficult to make sense of this experience, takes the prophet to the well-respected Waraka ibn Nawfal, who is known for having accepted Christianity before Islam, who read the Bible in Arabic, and wrote Hebrew in Arabic letters. Waraka answers the prophet, who tells him about his encounter with Gabriel: “What you see here is namus brought down to Moses.”5

←xiii | xiv→

Throughout history, “namus” has been used in Arabic (nâmûs’), Hebrew and Syriac (nūmūs or nīmūs/נומוס), ancient Greek (nómos/νόμος), and Persian (افتخار) texts as pure spirit, custom, law, and as associated with Gabriel, depending on the respective context. We can therefore say that, seen from today’s perspective, this expression contains a most profoundly integrated link: the pure spirit is both the carrier of the divine law (i.e., Gabriel) and at the same time God’s law. “Namus” comes down to earth as a divine command.

The evolution of the word “namus” over time is quite striking. In French and English, compound names with “nomo+” or “nome+” have the functions of order, law, regulation, or restriction. In the names of various disciplining categories like “antinomy,” “astronomy,” “economy,” “ergonomics,” “gastronomy,” “taxonomy” and others we come across “nómos,” indicating that thanks to these denominations we can easily make distinctions within the world order established by a dominant culture owing to the masculine tradition of thinking. Taking “nómos” as a starting point, in a world where all the rules, measures, and frameworks are determined by men who eliminate women from history and dominate the process of describing and classifying all discoveries, from the stars in the sky down to underground mines, being a woman becomes a synonym for living in exile. After all, Mary’s suffering from “nómos” is as old as the sovereign state.

Sema Kaygusuz

←xiv |

1 Fatmagül Berktay discusses this issue in her 2016 article, in which she offers a detailed assessment of the historical and philosophical context.

2 See <https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/thank-not-making-woman/>.

3 See <https://biblehub.com/1_corinthians/11-3.htm>.

4 See <https://quran.com/4/34?translations=18,21,22,84,95>.

5 “Bu gördüğün Musa’ya indirilen Nâmûs’tur” (qtd. in Aydın 62).


Honor we cherish, heroes we respect

In Book 8 of the Confucian classic Zuozhuan, an ancient Chinese narrative history that is traditionally regarded as a commentary on the chronicle Spring and Autumn Annals 《春秋 》, we find the following story: after the battle at Bi between kingdom Jin and kingdom Chu, kingdom Jin started to decline. When Duke Jing ascended to the throne in kingdom Jin, he took lessons from past events and made various efforts to revive kingdom Jin, including the attempt to establish an alliance with kingdom Qi, which was then on good terms with kingdom Chu. However, kingdom Qi’s Duke Qing insulted kingdom Jin’s envoy, because Duke Qing didn’t believe there was a need for a kingdom as large and strong as Qi to show respect for a battle loser. Infuriated, Duke Jing sent Commander Yu Ke and General Fan Xie of the Upper Battalion to attack kingdom Qi, which they defeated at An (now located in Jinan, Shandong province). The then routine for returning troops was that the general would enter the capital city first. Fan Xie’s father, waiting at the city gate, saw Yu Ke rather than his son Fan Xie enter the city first. The father thought his son must have died in the battle, and was very surprised to see his son enter the city later. “My Son, you know how eager I have been to see you!” the father exclaimed. Fan Xie replied, “Yu Ke is the commander this time. After such a victory, he should enter the city first. If I had entered the city ahead of him, the people’s attention would have all been on me. That would have transgressed against the rules governing hierarchical positions.” His father heard the explanation and complimented him on his modesty and courtesy.

When commander Yu Ke went to the court to attend an audience with Duke Jing, the Duke exclaimed, “Such a victory! The credit is yours!” But Yu Ke replied, “What I did was just to take orders from you, and the soldiers followed the instructions of your orders by fighting bravely. How could I take the credit for the victory?” Then General Fan Xie of the Upper Battalion came to the court, and the Duke again greeted him with “Such a victory! The credit is yours!” Fan Xie answered, “What I did was just to take orders from the Commander, and the soldiers followed the instructions of the Commander’s orders by fighting bravely. How could I take credit for the victory?” Finally, General Luan Shu of the Lower Battalion came to the court. Duke Jing again uttered, “Such a victory! The credit is yours!” Yet Luan Shu replied, “What I did was just to take orders from the General of the Upper Battalion, and the soldiers followed the instructions of the ←xv | xvi→General of the Upper Battalion’s orders by fighting fiercely. How could I take the credit for the victory?”

The above story reflects how the Chinese have viewed “honor.” The Chinese word “Shede” (舍得, meaning to “give away” or “being willing to part with”) unfolds the wisdom of making choices, as the word is formed with two characters of contrasted meanings: She (舍) means “give”; De (得) means “take/gain.” Throughout the country’s long history, most persons, especially the generals, ministers, Confucian scholars, and civilians have been working to achieve victories and accomplishments and henceforth the ruler’s due rewards. However, Yu Ke, Fan Xie, and Luan Shu have demonstrated that they had both the bravery of taking responsibilities and defeating enemies, but also the wisdom of coordinating the team, uniting the troops, and declining credits. What they gave away were credits for the victory, but what they gained were the Duke’s trust, the troops’ devotion, and the people’s support, and furthermore the revival and prosperity of kingdom Jin. Their conception of honor has been henceforth thought highly of and become an important moral value for China.

Chinese culture has been placing emphasis on the conception of honor, which extends to the adoration of heroes/heroines. In the country’s cultural memory, honor and heroes/heroines are closely intertwined: in the ancient era, there were heroes and heroines such as the mother goddess Nü Wa, who repaired the four broken pillars of Heaven, the mythological archer Hou Yi, who saved humankind by shooting nine suns, the 90-year-old Yu Gong, who was determined to remove a mountain for the villagers’ livelihood, and Yu the Great, who made every effort to control flood water. In the long feudal period, the peasant Chen Sheng courageously revolted against Emperor Qin’s ruthless tyranny; the renowned Tang dynasty General Zhang Xun sacrificed his life to defend Suiyang city against ferocious traitors, making it possible to “save one city, secure the whole nation.” The patriotic Southern Song dynasty General Yue Fei was determined from his youth to serve the country faithfully and to “regain the lost land.” Qing dynasty General Shi Kefa defended Yangzhou city, swearing “to die with the city.” In modern China, the Chinese United League (founded in 1905) member Zhang Zhongduan majestically went to his execution after being arrested for organizing revolts against the last feudal government; General Ji Hongchang donated all his money to purchase weapons for the troops, and made enemies tremble with fear on hearing his name; Yang Jingyu exhausted all available resources to combat the Japanese invaders, and was highly admired as a representative, anti-Japanese war hero; and the New Fourth Army’s General Peng Xuesang, who had brilliant commanding strategies and tactics, died a martyr. They are the soul of the nation, immortal with highest honors.

←xvi |

The “Honors List” has been growing longer through China’s over-5,000-year history. The denotation and connotation of the word “honor” change with time, while some common features remain. Firstly: loving the nation, loving the people. The nation’s interest and the people’s well-being have been priorities in all the hero stories from ancient anecdotes to the cultivation of heroes in the long feudal period, the modern war era, and the peaceful modern times. Secondly: striving hard, stressing self-support. All the heroes in the nation’s history have had firm beliefs, held down-to-earth attitudes, performed their duties scrupulously, and never ceased to believe in hard work. While making adjustments according to the circumstances, they never succumbed to difficulties and those in power. Thirdly: honesty and righteousness. One reason for the heroes’ ability to enjoy particular honors is that they abide by higher criteria to evaluate their deeds, and adhere to strict moral rules. They keep their promises, and sacrifice their own interests and even lives. These are not only the core values of honor, but also important characteristics of Chinese culture and the core of the national spirit.


XX, 304
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. XX, 304 pp.

Biographical notes

Mine Krause (Author) Yan SUN (Author) Michael Steppat (Author)

Mine Krause holds Ph.D. degrees in Comparative Literature from the University of Bayreuth (Germany) and from the University of Pau (France). She is a researcher in the Center for Intercultural Dialogue. Yan Sun holds a doctorate in Literature and a postgraduate degree in Law. She is a senior lecturer at Shanghai International Studies University and visiting scholar at The City University of New York (CUNY). Michael Steppat is Professor of Literature in English at the University of Bayreuth. He is a regular visiting professor at Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai.


Title: Honor, Face, and Violence
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326 pages