The largest country in the world by population, China is an exciting destination shaped by thousands of years of tradition, many of which are still upheld today. These traditions influence the etiquette that is expected of visitors and locals alike.
The rules and etiquette guidelines that govern day-to-day Chinese life are often very new for travelers from other countries and take some getting used to. It’s an understatement to say that upon their first visit to China, many foreign tourists experience a significant culture shock.
Keep reading to find out what 10 etiquette customs you should always follow during your visit to China.
9 Avoid Sitting On The Floor
In some countries, it’s perfectly acceptable and even customary to sit on the floor. But in China, you should avoid doing this as the floor is considered dirty, even if you’re inside. Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to sit on the floor, and in those circumstances, you should try to put something down to sit on, like a piece of cardboard or newspaper.
According to Eating Adventures, it is very startling for Chinese people to see others walking barefoot and coming into contact with the floor. Even in a place like an airport, it’s considered poor manners.
8 Remove Your Shoes Inside People’s Homes
Because the floor is considered dirty, it makes sense that Chinese people prefer shoes to be taken off before entering the home. As shoes have come into contact with the floor, they are typically also seen as carrying germs and unfit to wear in the house.
If you’re ever invited into someone’s home in China, or if you’re visiting a local temple, it is polite to remove your shoes before entering. It is also considered bad form to expose the bottom of your feet or point to them in public.
Every country has their own superstitions that may influence how their society runs. In China, there are a variety of superstitions to be aware of. Certain numbers are considered very unlucky, and it’s best to avoid them at all costs. For example, the number four is considered unlucky, as in Mandarin, it sounds like the word “death”.
Odd numbers are also considered unluckier than even numbers. According to Taiwanese Secrets, the number eight is one of the luckiest numbers, so if you’re ever giving a gift of money, try to round the amount up to a number with eight in it.
7 Don’t Write In Red Ink
While in China, you should be wary of the color red. Red ink, in particular, symbolizes protest, so it’s not something that you want to use when you can help it. China Highlights points out that red ink is also used for correcting homework, so it is associated with criticism and might not be well received.
There are a few other reasons why you should avoid writing in red ink while in China. For example, when a criminal is condemned to death in China, their name is recorded with red ink on the official records, and it is also used to write on their tombstones.
6 Address The Most Senior Person In Any Group First
It is customary to respect your elders in Chinese culture. Those in senior positions are more revered, so when you can, it’s best to honor these values by showing them a little extra respect. You can simply do this by addressing the eldest person in any group first.
When addressing your elders, it’s also a good idea to use their honorific titles, such as "teacher". You can also use Mr. or Mrs. when greeting others, a simple handshake or nod is fine. Many people believe bowing is expected in China, but that is actually consistent with Japanese and Korean traditions.
5 Don’t Lose Your Cool When People Pry Into Your Personal Life
In many Western countries, it is considered rude to pry into someone’s private life. There are certain questions that aren’t appropriate to ask unless you know someone really well. But in Chinese culture, such questions aren’t considered bad form. Don’t be surprised if you get asked some questions that you find a little startling.
You might be asked how old you are, what your education level is, what your relationship status is, and how much money you make. Remember all these questions are asked out of curiosity. You don’t have to answer, but keep in mind that they are not rude questions in Chinese culture.
4 Refuse Any Gift A Few Times Before You Accept It
There’s a certain etiquette that comes with giving and receiving gifts in China. In Western countries, it’s sometimes polite to refuse a gift before accepting it. “I couldn’t possibly accept this,” is something that people say out of courtesy, even if they have every intention of accepting it. This rule is even stronger in China. Generally, you’ll want to politely refuse more than once before accepting a gift.
A common phenomenon in a few Asian countries, it is also a tradition in China to give and receive gifts with both hands rather than just one.
3 Keep PDAs To A Minimum
Depending on where you come from, you might find that China is a much more of a conservative country than what you’re used to. As a nation with traditional values, China tends to frown upon things that are considered perfectly normal in Western countries, such as public displays of affection.
Out of respect, it’s best to avoid engaging in PDAs while out and about in China. If you do kiss or hug someone in public, you run the risk of being stared at or possibly judged. This is especially true in more rural areas.
2 At A Banquet, Sample Some Of Everything
During your visit to China, it’s likely that you’ll be lucky enough to attend a traditional Chinese banquet. There are a few etiquette rules to keep in mind at any banquet, and one of the most important is that you try to sample some of everything. It’s also polite to leave a little on your plate at the end of the meal, to show that your host hasn’t left you hungry.
Another polite gesture during banquets is to tap two fingers on the dining table when someone refills your tea. This is the way to thank them for the refill.
1 Don’t Try To Bargain In Every Situation
You might have been told that bartering is commonplace in China and you should always try to bargain prices down to get the best deal. While there are some situations where bargaining is recommended, such as touristy locations that cater to foreigners, many prices in China are actually fixed. If you try to negotiate them, you’ll come across as disrespectful to the vendor.
Even in places where you might expect to have to bargain, such as food markets, it’s actually customary to accept the stated price. Trying to negotiate in these circumstances will make you stand out as a tourist.