China is a country rich in history, culture, and traditions. As one of the world’s oldest civilizations, Chinese traditions run deep and have been passed down for many generations. Whether you’re travelling to China for work or fun, it’s important to know and show respect for their culture and customs. Demonstrating politeness and courtesy, called ‘客气,’ holds significant importance when communicating in China. These manners come from old traditions and beliefs. Moving forward, we’ll uncover etiquette customs that have been part of Chinese culture for centuries.

Chinese Greeting Etiquette

  • Show respect by greeting the oldest person first.
  • If they have rank, offer a subtle shoulder bow as a sign of respect.
  • Address them using their surname with “Mrs.” or “Mr.” (avoid using their first name).
  • Avoid physical contact like hugs or kisses, as it can discomfort people.
  • Be careful with firm handshakes as they may come across as aggressive.
Giving a strong handshake can be interpreted as an aggressive gesture in Chinese culture
Image by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Chinese Table Etiquette

Dining in China is more than a meal; it’s a cultural experience steeped in tradition and etiquette that dates back centuries. 

  • People don’t choose their seats randomly. Proximity to the host (‘the emperor’) signifies importance.
  • The elderly should take the lead when dining. They sit down first, get served first and everyone else should wait patiently. 
  • You should keep both hands and arms on the table. 
  • Never point the chopsticks at someone or stick them in the food because it brings bad luck.
  • Because noodles symbolize long life, avoid cutting them. 
  • Younger guests should keep their glasses lower, and when someone says 干杯 (‘ganbei’), finish the drink, showing the empty glass.
Chinese table etiquettes
Image by Angela Roma from Pexels

Chinese Gift Etiquette

  • When receiving a gift, it is polite to kindly refuse it before accepting it. 
  • Avoid objects with the number 4. In Chinese language the number 4 has the same pronunciation as the word ‘death’.
  • Don’t buy white flowers as a present. They are only for funerals. 
  • Don’t offer watches as a gift. It indicates that their time has come.

Chinese Social Etiquette

  • Being on time shows respect. Try never to be late.
  • Avoid sensitive topics like politics or country criticism. People may feel offended. 
  • Never point at people.  It’s considered hostile and extremely rude.

Chinese Color Symbolism

In Chinese culture colors carry strong symbolism.

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

Red (红色):  represents joy and luck. Yet, avoid writing names in red as it was historically used for those sentenced to death and now for breakup letters.

Green (绿色): symbolizes harmony, prosperity, and health. Avoid wearing green hats, as it suggests unfaithfulness.

White (白色): is associated with mourning, traditionally used in funerals.

Yellow (黄色): is the most significant color, linked to the emperor. But it can also convey vulgar meanings.

The symbolism of colors
Image by Pixabay from Pexels

Want To Know More About Chinese Etiquette?

In this blog post, I’ve shown you a few of the fascinating Chinese etiquettes that make the country so captivating. By immersing yourself in this millennia-old culture, you’ll be amazed by its depth and diversity.

Don’t have the chance to visit China? No worries! Join SPEAK as a participant and embark on a journey to learn one of the world’s top 5 languages, Mandarin Chinese. You will not only gain linguistic skills, but you’ll also have the opportunity to connect with Chinese speakers who can share even more about the nuances of Chinese culture.

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.

3 Replies to “Discovering the Secrets of Chinese Etiquette: 19 Essential Tips

  1. Thank you for all the information…I appreciate your effort. I’m really attracted to Chinese culture and found your site quite informative. Thank you.

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