greatest sage established a system of ethics, morals, hierarchy
and behavior, setting the rules for people dealing with other people,
and establishing each person's proper place in society.
five major relationships set forth by Confucius:
concepts in understanding Chinese culture:
Guanxi - Throughout
much of Chinese history, the fundamental glue that has held society
together is the concept of guanxi, relationships between people.
Mianxi - Face
- Losing face, saving face and giving face is very important and should
be taken into consideration at all times.
Li - Originally
li meant to sacrifice, but today it is translated as the art
of being polite and courteous. Proper etiquette preserves harmony
Keqi - Ke
means guest and qi means behavior. It not only means considerate,
polite, and well mannered, but also represents humbleness and modesty.
to Know Each Other
The Chinese usually do not like to do business with strangers, and
will make frequent use of go-betweens. Whenever possible, try to
use established relationships, or an intermediary known by both
sides, to make the first contact
Chinese prefer to be formally introduced to someone new. This applies
to both Chinese and foreigners.
The Chinese may seem unfriendly when being introduced. They are
taught not to show excessive emotion, thus the reference to Chinese
and other Asians as inscrutable.
Always stand up when being introduced and remain standing throughout
When being introduced to Chinese, the accepted form of greeting
is the handshake, even among Chinese. Chinese may also nod or slightly
bow (Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese bow from the shoulders rather
than the waist). One would then present a business card.
- Use both hands
when presenting business cards and be sure the writing faces the person
to whom you are presenting your card. Cards should also be received
with both hands. Do not immediately put the card in a pocket or bag-this
is considered rude.
- Follow with the
standard "I am pleased to meet you, or "ni hao" in Chinese.
- When seated, place
cards on the table. This shows respect and is also an excellent way
to remember names.
- Business cards
should be printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other.
- Be sure to use
simplified Chinese characters for China, not the classical characters
used in Hong Kong and Taiwan. If traveling to China and Taiwan or Hong
Kong, it is a good idea to put the different cards in separate boxes
to avoid mix-ups.
- Remember that
China is the People's Republic of China and Taiwan is the Republic of
& Forms of Address
- The Chinese will
state their last name first, followed by the given name (may be one
or two syllables). For example, Liu Jianguo, in Chinese would be Mr.
Jianguo Liu using the Western style.
- Never call someone
by only his or her last name. Unless specifically asked, do not call
someone by his or her first name.
- Addressing someone
by his or her courtesy or professional title and last name conveys respect.
In Chinese the name precedes the title. For example, Liu Xiansheng for
Mr. Liu, and Liu Jingli for Manager Liu.
- Women's names
cannot be distinguished from men's names. Chinese women use their maiden
names even after marriage, but may indicate marital status by using
Mrs., Ms., Miss, or Madam. Mrs. Wang might be married to Mr. Liu.
- Chinese who frequently
deal with foreigners or travel abroad on business may adopt a Western
first name, such as David Liu. They may request that they be referred
to as David, once a relationship has been established.
- Do not use the
term "comrade" in China
Questions & Compliments
- Do not be surprised
when asked personal questions regarding age, marital status, children,
family, income, job, etc. This is done to seek common ground.
- On the other hand,
the Chinese will be uncomfortable with American familiarity, particularly
early in a relationship. The arm around the shoulder or pat on the back
with "just call me Bob" approach should be left at home.
- Unlike the Western
custom, compliments are not graciously accepted with a "thank you,"
but rather with "not at all or it was nothing." Accepting and giving
direct praise is considered poor etiquette. Do not be gushy with thank
distance, Touching & Gestures
- Every culture
defines proper distance. Westerners, particularly Americans, find that
the Chinese comfort zone regarding distance is a bit to close for their
Westerners may back up when others invade their space. Do not be surprised
to find that the Chinese will simply step closer.
- The Chinese do
not like to be touched, particularly by strangers. Do not hug, back
slap or put an arm around someone's shoulder.
- Do not be offended
if you are pushed and shoved in a line. The Chinese do not practice
the art of lining up and courtesy to strangers in public places is not
- People of the
same sex may walk hand-in-hand as a gesture of friendship in China.
- Western gestures
that are taboo in China include:
- Pointing the
index finger--use the open hand instead.
- Using the index
finger to call someone-use the hand with fingers motioning downward
as in waving.
- Finger snapping
- Showing the
soles of shoes.
- Whistling is
- Chinese customs
that are annoying to Westerners:
- Belching or
spitting on the street
- Lack of consideration
when smoking and failure to ask permission to smoke
- Slurping food
- Talking while
and Entertainment Etiquette & Protocol
- Entertaining guests
at a Chinese banquet is an important way of establishing guanxi.
- For more formal
banquets, invitations will be sent and place cards will be at the table.
- Guests should
sample all of the dishes and leave something on the plate at the end
of the meal. A clean plate indicates you are still hungry and it is
the host's responsibility to see that you are continually served food
- Under no circumstances
should chopsticks be placed in the rice standing up. This symbolizes
- There are no firm
rules regarding dinner conversation. Depending on the closeness of the
relationship, business may or may not be discussed. Follow host's lead.
- Drinking is an
important part of Chinese entertaining and is considered a social lubricant.
The drinking officially begins after the host offers a short toast to
- It is always a
good idea for the guest to return the toast either right away or after
a few courses have been served.
- Safe topics for
toasts are friendship, pledges for cooperation, the desire to reciprocate
the hospitality, and mutual benefit.
- The Chinese understand
if you are unable to drink alcohol. Stating medical reasons is always
a good way to get out of drinking alcohol.
- The most common
expression for toasting is Gan bei, meaning "dry cup", or bottoms up.
- The Chinese are
not as understanding of tipsy guests as are the Japanese or Koreans.
If you feel you have had enough, smile and politely indicate this to
- Do not pour your
own drink. It shows a lack of protocol.
- Do not underestimate
the importance of participating in dining and after-dinner entertainment.
It is an excellent way to build guanxi.
- Gifts are an important
way of creating and building guanxi in China.
- Chinese etiquette
requires that a person decline a gift, invitation, and other offerings
two or three times before accepting. It is expected that the giver will
persist, gently, until the gift is accepted. Be sensitive to genuine
- Chinese and Westerners
differ in the approach to gifts. In the West, a sincere thank you or
a thank you note is an acceptable way to extend appreciation. In China,
a more tangible form, or gift, is preferred.
- Never give a gift
that would make it impossible for the Chinese to reciprocate-this would
cause a loss of face and place them in a very difficult position.
- The Chinese usually
do not open gifts at the time they receive them.
- When receiving
gifts from the Chinese, do not open them unless they insist.
Gifts & Gift-giving Taboos
- Gifts should reflect
the giver and the recipient.
- Consider gifts
from your area. Gifts with a company logo are fine as long as they do
not include things that are considered taboo and are not too showy.
- Gifts of foreign
cigarettes, cognac, fine whiskey, quality wines are acceptable.
- Do not give anything
in sets of four or gifts that carry the association of death or funerals
such as clocks, cut flowers, white objects. Do not give scissors or
anything sharp as it symbolizes severing relations
- Be cautious when
giving food items-it can suggest poverty.
- Always wrap gifts,
but do not use white paper-it symbolizes death. Red and gold are the
best. Avoid elaborately wrapping gifts.
- Never write anything
in red ink.
It is often said that
imitation is the highest form of flattery. Taking time to learn something
about Chinese culture and customs can only pay dividends.
Copyright © 2021
Joyce Millet, Cultural Savvy. All rights reserved.