Chinese Etiquette

China is a country been known for its ceremonies and etiquette through the ages. As one of the oldest living civilizations on Earth, China has been developing its culture over millennia and forms its unique customs. What might be culturally acceptable in the West might be taboo in China (and vice versa!) So pay attention to the Chinese taboos when you plan to have a visit in China!

1. Greetings

Many western countries accept hugs and kisses as a popular form of greeting, while in China, a handshake or a simple and kind address is a common form of greeting. In China, various forms of address are used according to circumstances. The general address most widely used is to call others by their family name or full name by putting the Mr. or Ms. in front. And for a sign of respect to those in a more senior position or the eldest, address them first.

2. Table Manners

Chinese table manners are part of Chinese catering culture, which include a series of rules, such as the chopstick etiquette, seating arrangements, etc. Generally the main guest or the elder will be arranged at the best seat on the left, east and facing the gate. 

  •  Be graceful and polite when taking food with chopsticks.
  • Don’t make much noise when eating or drinking soup.
  • Don’t talk when there is food on the mouth.
  • Don’t point someone with chopsticks or play with chopsticks.
  • Pick the teeth with toothpick.
  • Don’t use your own chopsticks to pick food from the central dishes.

See Chinese Dining Etiquette to learn more about Chinese table manners.

3. Drinking Custom

In China, nearly all important occasions are celebrated with alcohol. There are many things to remember when drinking for example, at a feast, if one wants to show his or her respect to elders or superiors, he or she should toast. Before drinking the wine, they will touch their cups to express their affection. The cups of the younger or the person who toasts should be lower. Generally speaking, the one who toasts would empty the cup to show his or her sincerity. Chinese people usually drink in a happy atmosphere involving talking and joking. Sometimes, in order to increase liveliness, people set rules for drinking, almost like a game. The person who loses may be “punished” by drinking wine if he or she loses the game. 

See Chinese Drinks to know more about drinking in China.

4. Tea Serving Etiquette

Tea Serving Etiquette is one of the traditional Chinese etiquette which has a history of more than 3000 years. It is a way to show respect to guest and friends. When inviting guest to drink, it’s necessary to use two hands to hold the tea to the guests to show respect. The tea cup should put at the right hand of the guest. Fill the water in time, when the water is nearly drank out. Guest should appreciate the tea, and try to avoid drinking a big mouthful of tea. The water should not be too hot and the tea should not be serving too full on a cup. 

5. Giving and Receiving Gifts

In China, if one receives a gift, invitation or hospitality treatment from someone, usually he/she will offer back to the one when it is suitable. This is called “Li Shang Wang Lai” in Chinese. The customary reciprocity is also considered a traditional way to build and maintain friendships. 

  • Bring gifts to the host when you are invited is quite common in China.
  • The gift should be wrapped well.
  • Don’t wrap gifts using black or white wrapping paper.
  • Do Present and receive things with both hands.
  • Small items like books, perfumes and candies from your home country are welcomed as a gift in China.
  • Don’t gift clocks or other items related to the number four which are associated with death in China.

6. Family Visiting

Chinese people are hospitable. If you are invited by a Chinese family, bring some gifts as a polite gesture. It’s important to be punctual for the appointment. Tea, drinks, cigarettes, fruit, sweets, socks and snacks are usually served.Just express your thanks and then you can help yourself. 

As for the gift you bring to the family, it should be appropriate for the condition or occasion. If you visit a Chinese family, good gifts to the hostess are flowers, toiletries or scarves. Toys, candy and books are good for children if they are available. If you attend a wedding party, the art deco, bouquet or something practical is the best choice. During traditional festivals, you can bring wine, cigarettes, tea, candy, fruit or some local products.

7. Etiquette in Historic and Religious Areas

In the religious area, it’s important to observe local religious rituals. In the Tibet area, walk in a clockwise direction when touring a temple or monastery; take off your hat when entering temples; Don’t photograph old folk without permission; Don’t touch a Tibetan on the head and so on. 

In mosques and Islamic areas, maintain gender separation in mosques; cover your arms to the elbow and your legs above the knees; women need to cover their head with a scarf; don’t ask sensitive questions; and don’t bring non-halal items into a Muslim restaurant/home. 

See more about Tibet Tours, Muslin Tours and Silk Road Tours.

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