A Brief Guide To Chinese Customs

When visiting any country particularly where English is not commonly spoken, it can be difficult to navigate as a tourist through the culture, customs and etiquette of any foreign country.

The following information provides a general introduction to the customs of China which should be considered when traveling there. Although this information is general in nature, it's by no means a definitive guide as many regions have subtle nuances not mentioned here.

China Fast Facts


China is officially known as the People's Republic of China (PRC) it is a unitary sovereign state situated East Asia. The region covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometers or 3.7 million square miles.



The capital of China is Beijing, formally known as Peking.


China is the world's most populous country with a population of over 1.38 billion people.


  • 73.56% - Chinese folk religion/ unaffiliated
  • 15.87 - Buddhism
  • 7.6% - Other religious organizations, including folk sects and the Taoist Church
  • 2.53% - Christianity
  • 0.45% - Islam



China is governed by the Communist Party of China covering a jurisdiction of over twenty two provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing) and the Special Administrative Regions including Hong Kong and Macau. China also claims its sovereignty over Taiwan.

Chinese Language

Chinese language comprises a family of closely associated but regionally distinctive languages and dialects. Its been said that over 1.2 billion people speak one or more varieties of the Chinese language. All varieties of Chinese are associated with the Sino-Tibetan family of languages and each one has its own dialects and sub-dialects which are more or less mutually understood.

Chinese Customs And Etiquette

  • A handshake is the most commonly recognized form of greeting when it comes to interacting with foreigners.
  • During the greeting the Chinese will often focus their eyes toward the ground during the first part of the greeting.
  • During the introduction address the person by their appropriate honor title followed by their surname. If they wish to move to a first name basis, they will advise you which name to use.
  • In Chinese culture greetings are formal in nature and the oldest person in the group is always greeted first.
  • Public displays of affection are frowned upon in China, so refrain from back slapping, hugging or putting your arm around a person's shoulder. These gestures can make the Chinese feel uncomfortable, since they do not like to be touched by strangers.
  • The Chinese are known to have a good sense of humor and often laugh at themselves when in the company of trusted friends and family, so when interacting with new friends be ready to laugh at yourself should the circumstances allow.
  • Chinese people are very proud of their country, so they can become more than a little irritated when guests to their country make criticisms of China. They know that things are not perfect and they also know that they are working hard to deal with problems of environment and population and so on.
  • Discussions regarding politics, state leaders, recent history, and issues about Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet are still seen as sensitive, so these topics are best avoided.


Gift Giving Etiquette

  • Generally gifts are given during significant events including Chinese New Year, weddings and birthdays.

  • The Chinese love their food and often the gift of a nice food basket will be well received.

  • The gift of scissors, knives or other cutting implements do not make a good gift as they indicate the severing of the relationship.

  • Additionally gifts including flowers, clocks and handkerchiefs should also be avoided as they are associated with death and funerals.

  • Do not wrap or give gifts covered with white, blue or black paper.

  • Four is known as an unlucky number so never give four of anything. Eight on the other hand is the luckiest number, so giving eight of something brings good luck to the recipient.

  • Gifts may be refused three times before they are accepted.

  • Always present gifts with two hands.

  • Gifts are not opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

  • The Chinese have a preference for entertaining in public places as opposed to their homes, especially when entertaining people from overseas so oftentimes when dining out, the restaurant will be filled with Chinese entertaining for business or pleasure.

  • Do not become embarrassed or offended when dining at a Chinese restaurant you hear your fellow diners making slurping or belching sounds, it merely indicates that they are enjoying their food.

  • There are no strict rules about finishing all the food in your bowl.


  • Learn to use chopsticks, life will be much easier for you when dining throughout China.

  • Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites, when you drink or stop to speak.

  • Never put bones into your bowl. Place them on the table or in a special bowl provided for that purpose.

  • Under no circumstances should chopsticks be placed upright in the bowl. This symbolizes death. Additionally, you should not ever tap your bowl with the chopsticks.


  • Hold the rice bowl close to your mouth while eating.

  • When drinking a toast, tap the table twice, and stand up if it's more formal.

  • Note: Tipping is becoming more commonplace particularly in the areas frequented by tourists. Leaving a few coins is generally sufficient, if you are so inclined.

Sandra Hawkins

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