Chinese Etiquette

There are several behavioral nuances in China that you need to learn before traveling there. China, like every other country in the world, has their “proper code of conduct” that you need to adhere to before stepping foot on foreign ground.The Chinese are a proud people, and as such, symbolism takes enormous precedence.

When you greet people, address them with an honorific, like Mr. and Mrs., plus the family name. They don’t have first and last names there. They have equivalents, called their surname or family name plus their given name. A handshake is the most common form of greeting, but a nod will also do. When greeting a group of people, greet the eldest first as a sign of respect.

Table manners differ from country to country. In China, when you are drinking a toast, tap the table twice and stand up (in formal situations). At a banquet or formal occasions, sample all dishes. Don’t pick one ahead of time and fill your plate with one offering. At the end of the meal, leave a little food left on your plate to show the host they provided you with more than your fill. Don’t put the bones in your bowl if a separate plate is provided for that purpose. When in doubt, do as others are doing. Do not place your chopsticks upright in your bowl at any time. This symbolizes death and is frowned upon. Your chopsticks are utensils, not musical instruments. Don’t tap your bowl with them.

The Chinese people are big on giving and receiving gifts. When you present or receive gifts, use both hands to show that you are giving them your undivided attention. Unless the giver of the gift tells you to open the gift, never open the gift in front of the giver. This is a private ritual. Don’t excessively wrap your gift; keep it simple. When choosing a color, use festive colors; white and black have religious meaning, with black being a major no-no. The number four is associated with funerals and death. Scissors or other sharp objects are not proper gifts either as they symbolize severing relations. Give one gift or give them in pairs. Great gift giving ideas include items from your own country, like books, music CDs, perfumes, cigarettes, and candy.

Don’t criticize their country. I’ve mentioned before the Chinese are a proud people. They know their country isn’t perfect; they are working hard to survive and flourish like everyone else in the world. The same taboo topics of conversation in the United States hold true in China too. These include topics on religion, politics, state leaders, and recent history. Don’t bring them up.

Don’t overreact when someone is asking personal questions like marital status, family, age, job, or income. These are ways they seek to find common middle ground to connect and relate to you. Never write in red ink; this is reserved for severe criticism or protest. Don’t touch other people with a back slap or a hug unless you are familiar with them.

Several rules govern your behavior in China. Remember that you are dealing with one of the ancient civilizations that have survived to see modern times. Before you act in any social situation, observe others and do what they do.