Chinese Culture


Primary Author
Chara Scroope & Nina Evason,

Basic Etiquette

  • Give and receive everything with two hands.
  • Tipping is considered derogatory as it is something a superior does to an inferior. 
  • The correct decorum during interactions in China always entails showing deference to those who are older. It is expected that one bows their head slightly and speaks softly when conversing with someone elderly. The advice or opinion of the elderly should never be contested. Talking back to or refuting them is considered very rude.
  • The Chinese are often punctual and will generally arrive at the designated time, particularly when meeting someone for the first time. For casual appointments or gatherings with friends or family, Chinese people tend to attach less importance to punctuality.


  • Invitations are usually used in formal settings. In other instances, people will arrive unannounced.
  • When invited to someone’s home, Chinese are generally punctual.
  • Guests are expected to exercise and refrain from loud, boisterous actions and speech. 
  • Friends will often bring gifts like tea, cigarettes, fruit, chocolates or cake when visiting to show their ‘xin yi’ (‘blessings’ or ‘good intentions’) towards the host. 
  • Hosts usually offer refreshments like fruit or nuts. If guests decline the offer, hosts will typically insist several times before accepting the refusal. 
  • Etiquette at dining tables shows deference to the social of age.


  • Food is often placed at the centre of the table, and there are usually multiple dishes to be eaten with rice.
  • Place the foods that mix with rice in your rice bowl, and hold the bowl close to your mouth as you feed yourself.
  • Try and taste everything served as this is considered polite when eating as a guest in someone’s home.
  • Eating a lot of rice without complementary component foods indicates that you do not like the meal.
  • Do not eat the last of anything left on a serving tray.
  • If you want a second serving, refuse the host’s offer once before accepting it.
  • Leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating. An empty plate indicates that the host did not provide enough food and that you need your plate to be filled again.
  • Place any bones or seeds on the table beside your plate or in a provided dish. Do not put them back in your rice bowl.
  • Do not leave chopsticks in the rice bowl after using them. Place them on the table.
  • Avoid sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. This is seen to resemble the incense used during funerals and thus implies death.


  • Pass a gift to the recipient with both hands. 
  • A Chinese person may decline receiving a gift two or three times out of before accepting.
  • Gifts are not opened immediately or in the presence of the gift-giver. 
  • Careful attention is paid to the wrapping of a gift, as the first impression it gives is very important. The more elaborate the wrapping, the better. Gifts wrapped in red and gold paper denote luck, whereas white, blue or black wrapping has sour connotations.
  • Do not give expensive gifts that are difficult to reciprocate or match. Such gifts will cause the Chinese recipient to lose , resulting in a possible rejection of the gift.
  • Sweets, fruits, flowers (excluding white ones) or spirits make for good gifts.
  • Do not give gifts that add up to four in number. The pronunciation of the word ‘four’ sounds similar to the Chinese word for ‘death’.
  • Taboo items for gifts: sharp objects (e.g., knives, scissors), clocks, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, green hats, mirrors, and yellow or white flowers. See Other Considerations for more taboo items that are inappropriate as gifts.

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