Features of etiquette in China

In this article, we will tell you about the most interesting features of etiquette in China. The information can amaze you, but it is worth familiarizing yourself before traveling to the Middle Kingdom.

Acquaintance and small talk

Features of etiquette in China somewhat different than in the West. But they are similar in the list of allowed or undesirable topics of conversation.

The standard greeting in China to strangers sounds like “Nĭ hăo!” equal to “Hello!”. In order to emphasize respect for the interlocutor – “Nín hăo!”. This form adopted with respect to people of older age, leaders, teachers.

When calling the interlocutor by name, you can use the address “Xiānsheng”, which is equivalent to “Master” or “Mister”. “Xiăojiĕ” – when referring to a girl as “Miss” or “Nǚshì” – when referring to a woman as “Madam”.

After greeting you may be asked:

  • Jin lái zěnme yàng? = How are you doing?
  • Shēntǐ hǎo ma? = How is your health?
  • Jiālǐ zěnyàng? = How is your family?
  • Gōngzuò máng ma? = How is your work?
  • Xuéxí máng ma? = How is your study?

You can answer by using these phrases:

  • Hěn hǎo = Very good
  • Hái xíng = Good
  • Mǎmǎhǔhǔyang = Not bad (So-so)
  • Jiù nàyàng = As usually

Features of etiquette in China

One common greeting is  ”Nǐ chīfànle méiyǒu“ = ”Have you eaten?“. This kind of greeting is one of the features of etiquette in China. The meal has a more marked social significance in China than in the West. Therefore, both food and culinary preferences are always welcome topics for discussion.

Sometimes you may be embarrassed or stressed by fairly straightforward questions about your marital status, work, family. Sometimes they can ask about your salary, it is normal in Chinese culture. In general, Chinese people speak much more direct. This is due to the language difference and has no intention of offending you.

There are some topics which better to avoid in your conversations with Chinese:

  • the cultural revolution
  • criticism of the Mao system
  • Tibetan and Taiwan issues
  • animal cruelty

Please note that the Chinese tend to touch you during a conversation. This is just a sign of sympathy, and you should not react rudely to it.

Loss of face

“Save face” and “Loss of face” are very important features of etiquette in China. The Chinese are very proud of their culture, cuisine and traditions. Respect this and try not to put the Chinese on the spot in which they can lose face in front of their compatriots. Try to be polite, smile and compliment their English skills. The Chinese are very sensitive to your behaviour and tend to respond in kind.

Also try to remain calm, self-possessed and friendly in stressful situations. Anger is not constructive here and will not help you in solving the problem. Even if you were deceived, try to solve the problem as gently and flexibly as possible. And you will reach your goal much faster.

In conclusion, a few more words about tolerance. Certain local habits and customs may be unpleasant or difficult to tolerate. Widespread smoking or spitting on the street are usual things. This is natural for the locals, so try not to be annoyed in vain and accept it as part of the culture.


In general, the Chinese are known for their hospitality. Inviting a foreigner to visit your home is a sign of great trust. If you received such an invitation, you should express your gratitude and answer exactly. If you are busy at the appointed time, you should express your regret and try to arrange another time.

Choosing gifts

When making a visit, it is better to bring a gift with you, especially if there are small children in the house. A gift must not be expensive. Moreover, an expensive gift is more likely to put the owner of the house in a difficult position. When choosing a gift, take into account the tastes and interests of the owner of the house. As well as the event for which you were invited, and buy something meaningful and practical or something artistic, or just a souvenir.

The taboo on numbers. A Chinese proverb says that happy events often come hand in hand, so it is considered a good omen to give paired items. And try to avoid odd numbers when giving wedding gifts.

Features of etiquette in China

The taboo on colours. The Chinese associate black with sad events, for this reason, black wrapping paper should not be used for gifts. Rural populations in China often dress in white at funerals, so white is taboo in many cases. The Chinese, especially the older generation, are very fond of red and regard it as a sign of favour. Red garlands, lanterns and other red and gold decorations are traditionally used to decorate homes on New Years and at weddings.

Special taboos. In China, you run the risk of offending a Chinese by presenting things like a watch. “zhong” = watch = end. Also, word “li” = pear = separation.

Gifts must be festively wrapped, don’t use newspapers or plain brown paper. The price tag should be cut. The host will thank you and put your gift aside since it is indecent to unfold the gift in front of guests.

Features of table etiquette in China

Upon arrival, it is worth observing the features of etiquette. You can sit down at the table after the older generation takes their places. At dinner you will most likely be offered wine or beer. If you do not drink alcohol, it is better to notify the owner in advance. While the next dish is being served, the owner of the house can get up and propose a toast to your health. At this moment, you should interrupt, put aside the devices and listen to the toast while standing. As a guest, you should also propose a toast in return for the host and other guests.

During the meal, the host can take the initiative and choose food for you. You should never show that you did not like a particular treat.

It is considered bad form to remain silent at the table throughout the evening. At the same time, your voice should not be too loud. It is permissible to stretch across the table for any dish in front of the faces of your neighbors. The bones are placed directly on the table or in a special plate. Never collect them on your plate.

Features of etiquette in China

After the end of the meal, the chopsticks are placed on the table or on a special chopstick holder. Putting chopsticks parallel to each other on a plate is considered bad omen. It is also unacceptable to stick sticks vertically into a bowl of rice. Try not to drop your sticks – this is also a bad omen.

Don’t leave the house right after dinner. Stay and have conversations after dinner over a cup of tea. As you leave the house, be sure to thank the host again for their hospitality and say goodbye to all other guests and family members.

All these features of etiquette in China can really confuse you. However, it is worth familiarizing yourself with them before traveling to China. We also recommend reading the article on the differences between Chinese and Westerners.