This paper investigates the use of the word 'face' in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Turkish and Chinese so as to trace the meaning of the concept in the two languages and cultures. The study describes the occurrence of the lexeme in five semantic/pragmatic domains in novels dating from the turn of the twentieth century, a period that corresponds to an acceleration in modernisation movements. Two conclusions are drawn from the comparison of face in Turkish and Chinese, and noteworthy similarities and differences are shown. The interpersonal and the emotional domains cover a wide usage area but form mirror images of each other in terms of the frequency of the tokens. Yet, the Chinese novels reveal more metapragmatic discourse on talk. This is interpreted as face forming a profound emic notion in Chinese culture, which encompasses both relational management and the social worth of the person, while the Turkish novels suggest that it is an "idiom" primarily employed for describing relational management style.