Introduction to Chinese Culture

Chinese Culture and Etiquette can be greatly at par, alike and aligned with the other countries of the world in terms of its diversity, content, context and scope. The Chinese people in a testamentary initiative have  adhered to their Culture and Etiquette religiously with utmost devotion, dedication and resiliency without fail and fade.

For every first time traveler, tourist and foreigner that fulfills their dream of travelling to China, in relation to their travel bucket list, it is pivotal and essential for them to have an in-depth understanding of the country’s customs, traditions, beliefs, etiquette and culture so that he or she can always put their best foot forward, throughout the entirety of their travel experience, in this multifaceted and promising country of the world.

The culture and etiquette of China is rich and versatile, in terms of its evolution over a thousand of years ago up to the present time, wherein, if a traveler, tourist and foreigner, relates their past travel experiences in the other countries that they have visited already, he or she can surely see its differences, in comparison to the Chinese culture and etiquette, respectively.

Travel experts and enthusiasts are one in aiding and  giving their advice to first-time visitors in China, which is, to be essentially patient and tolerant. In that way, every visitor and tourist concerned will be in place, with regards to their touristy and visitorial purposes in the country. As an individual, if respect and courtesy is immensely innate in you, as a first-time tourist in China or in any country of concern, then it is an assurance that you will feel, see and experience the truest warmth of the Chinese people, during the entirety of your travel experience and visit in China and in any country of concern.

In this article, we will discover the innate tenets, dimensions and facets of Chinese Culture and Etiquette in an introductory manner. At the end point of this article, we will truly appreciate the magnificence and tapestry of China, in the realms of its society, communities, and norms as a whole. Let us begin.

 A Closer Glimpse on Chinese Culture and Etiquette

In order for every first-time visitor, foreigner and tourist to maintain their best foot forward in the land of the rising sun, here are the 10 pivotal facets and dimensions of Chinese etiquette and culture that will surely lead you to gain a knowledgeable mind and heart whenever you are in China, as follows:

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first time, it is not a necessity to bow, but it is customary to say “Ni Hao”. 

It is culturally relevant to always take the first step, in creating a good first impression for one’s self, during your firsts in everything in a country. It is a thought for every foreigner in China, that bowing is a customary, but it is not a necessity whenever you are in the land of the rising sun. For the benefit of Chinese people, and as a respect to their culture, a simpler soft handshake with a smile, and an utterance of “Ni Hao” will perfectly do.

In the guise of addressing the Chinese people that you encounter in China, here are the keynotes that you should remember: First, it is essential to address first, the oldest person and the person in seniority. Second, whenever you meet new people, always address them with their family name or if it applies, with their honorific title. It is a practice in China that the family names of the Chinese people are written first, followed by their given name. For instance, the famous Chinese business magnate, in the person of Jack Ma, should be addressed as Mr. Ma, respectively.

Always remember by mind and heart, that the English language, in the norms of China, when used in conversations and speaking varies greatly from one city to another. As an example, when you are in Shanghai and Xi’an, it is not an assurance that all of the locals in these major tourist cities have a good command of the English language, excluding the hotel reception staff and tour guide, respectively. In addition to that, it is a common situation in China that some Chinese who are minimally familiar with the English language, are shy often times to speak and converse using the language for fear of embarrassment.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first-time, it is essential to wear a conservative type of clothing. 

During these present times, the trends of Western fashion are leveled in popularity in China and similarly with the United States and in Europe. This basis in the realms of the fashion world is taken by the foreign travelers into great consideration, in order for them to blend and fit in when in China.But culturally, the Chinese clothing and wardrobe greatly differs from the Western clothing in numerous ways.

It is good for every tourist, foreigner and visitor to remember that the type of clothing that the Chinese people wear is similar to what you have been using in your respective country. Thus, if you would really want to blend in with the Chinese way of clothing, both as a tourist and visitor, be sure to carefully imprint in your fashion statements that Chinese people appreciate a conservative manner and way of clothing.

And also, avoid showing off too much of your skin whenever you are in the land of the rising sun.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first-time, it truly pays for him or her to be good all the time both in practice and in image.

An inherited cultural tradition, practice and norm in the Chinese society that has been passed on from one generation to the other, is to welcome foreigners, tourists and visitors in their home, even if you are a business associate on that matter. A memorable imprint that any first-timer in China can keep in his or her mind and heart, is to be invited to a Chinese family’s home. The experience is both wondrous and heartwarming because it is not included in a packaged tour that any travel agency offers for a trip to China, respectively. As originated from the past decades and centuries of China, the trademark of being very welcoming is inherent in the Chinese people, and thus, every visitor will feel a sense of belongingness because of their characteristic of making every visitor feel like a member of their family in totality.

An important set of reminders for every first-timer in China is that, first and foremost, whenever you get the opportunity to be invited by a Chinese family in their respective home, always be on time. Secondly, as a customary, do not forget to offer the host family a small gift as a token of appreciation for them, and always give the family a compliment that will mark your appreciation of a certain part in the house.

Similar to Thailand, it is a custom in China that every visitor should take off their shoes before entering the Chinese host family’s home.  In some situations, the host family may provide their visitor with a pair of slippers. As an act of politeness, every visitor should accept the slippers and wear them courteously even if these are smaller or larger than your actual foot size.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first-time, it truly plays an important role for an individual to get away from shyness and to try something new. 

When a tourist and visitor is seated on a Chinese dinner table, he or she will find it a blissful and fun place to be in because of the complete package that it offers to its guests in terms of delicious exotic food and a plateful of conversation. When you get the opportunity of being invited for dinner in a Chinese’s family home or in a restaurant on that matter, the most essential way that will make sure that you are completely abiding with the Chinese etiquette and culture, is to properly observe what everybody else that is seated on the dinner table is doing and in return, doing it in the most alike way that you can.

Second, always remember to wait for someone to tell you as to where you will be sitting or will be seated. Most of the time, the visitor is the first person to be seated by the host respectively, which is consecutively followed by the seniors, and then lastly, by the juniors. After observing this sitting sequence, the host will begin to eat, and the same time, offer the first toast, so as a sign of courtesy, you should start eating, when you are being told by the host to do so.

Third, always be sure to eat a plentiful amount of the food being served on the dinner table, because this will show to the host that you are at the momentum and peak of enjoyment and also, do not be shy to try and savor everything that is being offered to you as their visitor. In addition to that, it is important to remember that it is not a necessity to finish the whole dish that you are eating, but rather, it is proper in Chinese culture to leave a small amount of food on the serving tray or on your plate on that matter. This in return, will show your good mannerism and on the other hand, will tell the cook that he or she has prepared an enough amount of food.

Fourth, it is a practiced custom in China, to eat foods like shrimps and chicken with the use of your own bare hands, and to drink directly from your bowl. The use of chopsticks is highly appreciated as well. But if hesitation goes along your way, never be shy in asking for the necessary cutlery to use with your meal. The back logic behind this is that the Chinese host would not want you to experience hunger.

Fifth and lastly, whenever you decide to eat using chopsticks, always make sure that you do not stick them in an upright position, in a bowl of rice. In connection to that, whenever you decide not to use the chopsticks while eating, always remember to leave them flat on the table, and once finished, always place them on a flat position on the top portion of your bowl.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first-time, it is very important to adhere with their practice both in culture and etiquette, the act of gift giving. 

The act of giving and receiving gifts can sometimes cause confusion for visitors and tourists, yet the Chinese Culture and etiquette that circulates around it is quite in complexity. Gifts, in the land of the rising sun, are usually given, most of the time, when a visitor is being invited for dinner,when a tourist is invited to visit a Chinese family’s home or even during a birthday party, a wedding or even in major Chinese holidays, like for example, the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Below are a set of reminders that will remind every tourist, foreigner and visitor, on what needs to be remembered when receiving and presenting a gift in magnificent China, as follows:

  1. Always present and receive a gift with the use of both hands to imply respect and courtesy.

2. As a customary, always refuse a gift for at least two or three times before finally accepting it.

3. Always remember not to open the received gift in front of the person that gave it to you. It is more advisable and polite to open the gifts            after you leave or when you have already bid goodbye to him or her. But as an alternation, this can be opened if the giver will request                  you to open it immediately.

4. In the guise of following Chinese etiquette and culture, these are the following gifts that are not advised to give and receive when in                   China as follows: handkerchiefs, umbrellas, straw sandals, clocks, and anything that will have a resemblance of a crane or a stork. The               back logic behind this is that, on the basis of Chinese superstition and beliefs, the above mentioned items are directly associated with                death, separation and bad luck.

5. Keep into mind that, when in China, never give any sharp objects as gifts such as knives and scissors. The main reason behind this is                   that, it would mean that you want to cut off the relationship that you built between you and the one who gave the gift.

6. Lastly, gifts that are from your respective homecourt or home country are greatly appreciated and welcomed. As an additive, Chinese                people would like to receive fruits and other produce, most especially when it is presented in a beautiful box or basket on that matter.                But as a rejoinder, never decide on giving pears as a fruit or produce gift to your counterpart because it is relatively associated with                    separation, in the culture of China.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first time, it is always important to be mindful of Chinese Curiosity. 

As a norm in Chinese Culture and Etiquette, tourists and visitors often depict the Chinese people as curious individuals. Chinese people are culturally and normally not afraid to ask personal questions, even if it is the first time that you have met them. So whenever you are in China, never be surprised to be asked a lot by the Chinese people regarding your work, educational attainment, age and civil status, during the entirety of your conversation. But as a reminder, you need not to answer questions that are on the verge of invading your privacy. Because you have an option of explaining to them that you would not want to go into deep details about your personal life.

On the other hand, whenever you are out in a public place, for the purpose of strolling or touring, you may encounter some looks of the Chinese people that are curious and are randomly intense in hearing shouts of “Hello” on that matter.

Occasionally, some of these shouts are from vendors who would like to sell something to you. Sometimes, it is from somebody who would like to try communicating with a Non-Chinese individual or nonetheless, it comes from a person behind you or passing in front of you that may be cheeky in some points.

But the bottom line of all of these is that, these simple “hellos” are tantamount to usual friendly gestures, and in a case to case basis, is meant as the only way for Chinese people to get a tourist and visitor’s attention.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first-time, he or she should be greatly aware that respect for elders is essential in the country. 

A great respect for the elderly is highly imprinted in Chinese culture. In the guise of addressing the elderly, Chinese etiquette highly involves the use of the word “nin”, which is a courteous version of the word “you” in Mandarin. The elderly will always come first, in the norms of the Chinese society, both in a meeting and at dinner in a scenario.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first-time, he or she is reminded that flattery can go and mean in a lot of ways in the land of the rising sun. 

Humans as we are, we would like to be praised. Thus, when in China, we need to be keen, with the flattery that we receive because it implies both a positive and negative aspect. As I have mentioned in the first part of this article, we have to be very tolerant and patient with Chinese Culture and Etiquette as a whole.

  • When a tourist and visitor is in China for the first time, the concept of face is very essential to the Chinese people as a reminder for you.

Similar with Thailand, when you are in China, always keep in mind the following facets wherein it proves that the Chinese People gives high regard to the concept of the face as follows:

  1. Always avoid behaving in a manner that someone may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed with what you are doing. The Chinese people view this scenario greatly on the negative side.
  2. Avoid the practice of criticizing someone whenever he or she is in front of other people. This will result in humiliation on his or her part.
  3. Always remember to never lose sight of your personal temper, never even yell at people, and in totality, never show your anger in public. This is an insult for the Chinese people.
  4. Lastly, never give so much credit to yourself by talking a lot about YOU as a topic, and most importantly, never interrupt someone while both of you are in the midst of a conversation. This is a disrespect for the Chinese people.
  • The greatest reminder for every first-time tourist and visitor in China, with regards to their Chinese Culture and Etiquette, is to enjoy the warm and welcoming atmosphere of China. 

It is an assurance in the land of the rising sun, that whenever you decide to visit China, the Chinese People will surely treat you with utmost hospitality and will truly make you feel at home and assure you in the long run that you will indeed have a good time.