If you want to go to China, you must be aware that there are huge cultural differences dictated by very ancient traditions. Chinese culture is very ancient and is, above all, based on respect for good manners. Every daily action is regulated by a series of rules. If these rules are not respected, people can be misunderstood or you even have the risk of offending someone. In fact, ‘客气’ – which means courtesy – is the fundamental rule of the communication process and is a real ritual. These Chinese culture etiquette are not only influenced by traditions, but also by popular superstitions created during the history of China.

How To Greet People

To show respect, it is very important to greet the oldest person in the group first. Make sure to not use the person’s first name unless requested by them. They should be addressed with their surname, followed by ‘lady’, ‘sir’ or by their job title. Physical contact (such as hugs or kisses) can make people very uncomfortable. Also, strong handshakes can be interpreted as an aggressive gesture.

Giving a strong handshake can be interpreted as an aggressive gesture in Chinese culture

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At The Table

When you are invited to eat at someone’s home, the seat is never chosen randomly. The seating arrangement derives from the division into social classes of ancient imperial China. If you are close to ‘the emperor’ – the person who invited you  -, it means that you have a very important role.

Furthermore, it is polite to keep both hands and arms on the table. While on the superstitious side, you must always serve even dishes because the odd dishes are served to deceased people. In addition, the chopsticks should never be pointed at someone or stuck in the food because it brings bad luck. This last action recalls the incense sticks offered to the dead. Then, noodles are considered a symbol of long life so they should never be cut. And even for the toast you must follow some rules. For example, younger guests must keep the glass lower than the glass of the elders as a sign of respect. If someone says 干杯 – [‘ganbei’], you must drink all the content that’s in your glass and then show the empty glass.

Chinese table etiquettes

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When receiving a gift, it is polite to kindly refuse it before accepting it. It is considered inappropriate to give an object with the number 4 on it. This is because in Chinese language the number 4 (四) has the same pronunciation as the word ‘death’ (死) -. The same goes for watches, if you give someone a watch it means that their time has come.

What to do when you receive a gift in Chinese culture?

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Social Relationship

Public displays of affection are not viewed very well. Punctuality is a very important element because it is a form of respect for the other person and it is a sign of seriousness. In a conversation, topics such as politics or criticism of the country are seen as very sensitive. So be careful with this, because people might feel irritated.

Social relationships and Chinese culture

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Colors Symbolism

In Chinese culture, colors are fundamental because of their strong symbolism

Black (黑色): is linked to sadness and bad luck

Red (红色):  is linked to joy and luck. But, never write a name in red because in the past the names of those sentenced to death were written in this color. And now we use red to write breakup letters.

Green (绿色): is linked to harmony, prosperity and health. But, never wear a green hat because it indicates unfaithfulness.

White (白色): is the color associated with mourning, traditionally used in funeral ceremonies.

Yellow (黄色): is the most important color because yellow is linked to the figure of the emperor. But, this color can also indicate vulgar things.

The symbolism of colors

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Want To Know More About Chinese Culture Etiquette?

In this blog post I have explained just some of the many traditions that exist in this magnificent country. By visiting, you can be enchanted by the millennial culture that characterises China. Want to know more about Chinese culture but not in the opportunity to go to China? Sign up as a participant at SPEAK and learn one of the 5 most spoken languages in the world – Mandarin Chinese. And you might even make friends with Chinese participants, who for sure can tell you more about the Chinese culture etiquette too!

Author: Arianna D’Arrigo

Arianna is a buddy trainee and ambassador at SPEAK Turin, who is born in Turin, Italy. She is a university student who attends the last year of the Faculty of Asian and African Languages and Cultures with a specialization in Chinese. In her spare time, she likes to discover the world and she really loves photography.

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