Chinese Etiquette: 5 Things to Know Before You Go

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Every country has its own customs and rules of etiquette. China is no exception to that. If you’ve never been to the mainland, you should take care to learn a few things about Chinese culture to prevent from offending someone. You could say, “But I didn’t know,” but let’s be real here. If you’ve got enough time to plan a trip to China, you’ve got enough time to read up on what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Here’s the abridged version.

  1. Older people deserve respect

Whether you’ve come for business or pleasure, if you’re presented with a group of Chinese people to meet, always greet the oldest in the group first. Also, all adults are greeted with honors, from family members to teachers. When Chinese people are introduced, their family name is given first unlike in the West where our family name is given last.

  1. Handshakes are acceptable for greetings

In China, handshakes are a perfectly appropriate way of making someone’s acquaintances. A nod of the head will work too, though you don’t need to do both.

  1. Learn the art of giving and receiving

In China, whether you give someone a gift or you are receiving a gift, be sure to do so with both hands. When giving a gift, avoid ostentatious wrappings. The safest bet is to wrap it in red, a cherished Chinese color often used for holidays. And never ever unwrap a gift you are given in front of the giver. It makes you appear greedy. Do be sure to thank them though.

  1. Don’t ever do any of these

When dining, don’t stick your chopsticks standing straight up. Don’t write in red ink, don’t give someone a clock or a watch, or anything having to do with the number 4. In our traditions, it is 13 that puts people on edge but in China, the number 4 is bad luck.

  1. Watch what you say about China

China famously restricts news and social media so be careful what you bring up in discussion. For example, asking about what happened in Tiananmen Square in the 1990s is a very bad idea. Most Chinese people are extremely patriotic about their country and you’ll only create bad feelings if you bring things like this up. Unlike Americans, they do not want to discuss politics.

There are many more rules of etiquette to watch out for, but by far, these are the ones that would create the most offense so stay aware!

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