Translation: Person needs face, tree needs bark.
This proverb means that a person needs a respectable reputation in order to survive. Like a tree needs its bark to protect itself from harsh weather, a person needs to have a face to show the world. My informant has heard this phrase many times in her life. Often, she heard it from her elders, such as parents, uncles, aunts, or grandparents. She told me that once, she was very disrespectful to her mothers friend, and failed to say hello. Her mother used this phrase to scold her and tell her that not only does she look bad to her mothers friend, but her mother looks very bad as well.
In Chinese culture, having a face is very important. There are other phrases that are similar to this phrase that is also often used. One phrase is that is similar is mei you lian. The literal translation for this phrase is having no face. One of the most important aspects of social interaction in Chinese culture is taking someone out to eat. Often in Chinese restaurants, one will see many people at the same table fighting over the check; the idea of going Dutch is simply unheard of. Thus, a phrase including the words losing and face will often be heard in restaurants. Different families will fight over the check by saying that if someone else pays for the check, they will lose face with the rest of the Chinese community.