Chinese Culture

When in Rome, do as the Romans do...
Food and Meals
  • Breakfast
    • Usually eaten between 7 am - 9 am
    • Very simple, very fast (sometimes on-the-go)
    • Usually things like soya-bean milk, deep-fried dough sticks, porridge, steamed stuffed buns, or rice noodles
  • Lunch
    • Usually eaten between 12 pm – 2 pm
    • Typically quite rushed, followed by a nap after lunch (siesta)

    • Usually simple, such as noodles or rice, plus some meat and vegetables

  • Dinner
    • Usually served between 6 pm - 8 pm
    • It's polite to help with setting the table and preparing, as well as cleanup
    • Most families eat dinner prepared at home
    • Usually includes soup, variety of meat and vegetables, and rice
    • Most restaurants busiest around 7 pm and usually close around 10 pm
    • Street vendors that offer snacks, noodles, dumplings, etc. are open later​
  • Dining

    • Leave some food on your plate during each course of a meal to honor the generosity of your host. It is bad manners for a Chinese host not to keep refilling guests' plates or teacups.​

    • ​Slurping soup and belching are acceptable
    • Cover your mouth with your hand when using a toothpick
    • Put bones, seeds, etc. on the table, never in your rice bowl.
    • Chopsticks are used for all meals. Tapping your chopsticks on the table is considered very rude.
    • When finished eating, place your chopsticks neatly on the table or on the chopstick rest.

    • ​All dishes are served at once in a home. The host will place portions of each dish on guests' plates. Sample each dish.

    • Rare beef is considered barbaric by the Chinese.

General Mindsets
  • Deeply-rooted need to belong and conform to a unit (i.e. family, political party or organization)
  • The family is the focus of life for most Chinese people
  • Age and rank matter and are highly respected
  • Younger generations are less traditional in their dress and conduct


  • Shake hands upon meeting

    • Chinese people may nod or bow instead of shaking hands, although shaking hands has become increasingly common

  • When introduced to a Chinese group, they may greet you with applause

    • If they do, applaud back.

  • Allow senior people to begin greetings

  • You should greet the oldest, most senior person before others

Names and Titles

  • Use family names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Chinese host or colleagues to use their given names

    • This means to address them by Mr., Mrs., Miss plus their family name

    • Note: Chinese married women always retain their maiden name

  • Names may have two parts 

  • Traditional Chinese family names are placed first and the given name is last

    • For example: Wang Chien ​(family name, Wang; given name, Chien).

  • Chinese generally introduce their guests using their full titles

    • You should do the same

Body Language

  • Chinese people dislike being touched by strangers

    • Do not touch, hug, lock arms, back slap or make any body contact

    • Wait for your host family to initiate any hugs/touch and don't be offended if they don't

  • Cracking fingers or whistling is considered very rude

  • Never put your feet on a desk or a chair

  • Never gesture or pass an object with your feet

  • Never blow your nose in a handkerchief and put it back in your pocket 

  • To beckon a Chinese person, face the palm of your hand downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion

    • Never use your index finger to beckon anyone.

  • A Chinese person will suck air in quickly and loudly through their lips and teeth to express distress or surprise at a proposed request

    • If this happens, attempt to change your request, allowing the Chinese person to save face


  • You should wear conservative, simple, and modest clothing 

  • Avoid wearing flashy or overly fashionable things

  • Women should avoid bare backs, shorts, low-cut tops or excessive jewelry (dangly or gaudy)


  • Present gifts with both hands

  • Note that gifts are generally not opened upon receiving

  • It's best to give a gift to everyone present or don't give gifts at all

  • Older Chinese people usually refuse a gift at first to be polite so offer a second time

  • Never give a gift of great value until a clear relationship is established, so the gift for your host family shouldn't be expensive

  • Never give gifts that are:

    • In sets of four (a number associated with death)

    • White (symbolic of death)

    • Black (symbolic of tragedy of death)

Chinese people may sound angry when speaking Chinese, but they usually aren’t
History and Literature
Wikipedia: History of China
Wikipedia: Chinese Literature
Famous Chinese People
Read about:
Personal Space
  • Very different from Western sense of personal space (aka very close, even if space isn't crowded!)
  • If you're standing in line and are not getting close to the person in front of you, someone else will just cut in
  • Constant crowds: just know that there are a lot of people, everywhere, all the time
  • People will squeeze through or reach across you without saying anything
  • Not really a Chinese equivalent to “excuse me” for those situations
  • To Americans, it may seem rude but not to Chinese (many Chinese think that Westerners say “thank you” a lot)
  • For Chinese, the closer relationship you have with someone, the less need there is for those niceties
  • Pushing and cutting in line is common when getting onto a bus or subway 

Social Interactions

  • Chinese equivalent to American friendly small talk between strangers doesn't exist

  • Strangers usually do not acknowledge each other

Personal Hygiene

  • Chinese people find it gross when Westerners put a used tissue back into their pocket after blowing their nose. Westerners on the other hand are often appalled by the practice of “blowing” the nose without a tissue with a big snort and spitting, either right on the floor or, if indoors, into a trash can

Being a Foreigner 

  • Foreigners are still quite foreign in many parts of town

  • Expect to be stared at, especially if you are tall and blond

  • Kids may call you out and point at you

Other Helpful Hints

  • Chinese people find "no" difficult to say so they may say "maybe" or "we'll see" in order to save face

    • Forcing a Chinese person to say "no" will quickly end a relationship

  • Always refer to China as "China" or "People's Republic of China"

  • Always refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan" or "Province of Taiwan," never "China," "Republic of China," or "Free China"

    • Do not in any way suggest that Taiwan is not part of China

  • Always show respect for older people

    • This may be by offering a seat or right of way through the door 

  • Return applause when applauded

  • Refrain from being loud, boisterous or showy

  • Don't be insulted if a Chinese person asks you personal questions such as "How much money do you make?" or "Are you married?"

    • If you don't want to answer, just change the subject 

  • Never act like you are starving and don’t ask for a doggy bag

  • Most Chinese women don't wear wedding rings so don't assume marital status

  • Chinese women rarely smoke or drink

    • However, it is acceptable for Western women to do so moderately.

Got a question? Ask away!