Travelers' Dos and Don'ts in China
from abroad are confused and frightened by Chinese customs.
This handy reference tool makes it easy for newcomers to
Beijing to fit right in.
So come along, my alien friend! Welcome to Beijing!
The order of Chinese names is family name first, then given
name. Among some 440 family names, the 100 most common ones
account for 90% of the total population. Brides in China do
not adopt their husband's surnames.
Among Chinese, a popular way to address each other,
regardless of gender, is to add an age-related term of honor
before the family name. These include : lao (honorable old
one), xiao (honorable young one) or occasionally da
(honorable middle-aged one).
Unlike the Japanese, Chinese do not commonly bow as a form
of greeting. Instead, a brief handshake is usual. While
meeting elders or senior officials, your handshake should be
even more gentle and accompanied by a slight nod. Sometimes,
as an expression of warmth, a Chinese will cover the nomal
handshake with his left hand. As a sign of respect, Chinese
usually lower their eyes slightly when they meet others.
Moreover, embracing or kissing when greeting or saying
good-bye is highly unusual. Generally, Chinese do not show
their emotions and feelings in public. Consequently, it is
better not to behave in too carefree a manner in public.
Too, it is advisable to be fairly cautious in political
Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor
when it is first presented. Politely refusing two or three
times is thought to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting
something in haste makes a person look aggressive and
greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver.
Traditionally the monetary value of a gift indicated the
importance of a relationship, but due to increasing contact
with foreigners in recent years, the symbolic nature of
gifts has taken foot.
Present your gifts with both hands. And when wrapping, be
aware that the Chinese ascribe much importance to color. Red
is lucky, pink and yellow represent happiness and
prosperity; white, grey and black are funeral colors.
The popular items include cigarette lighters, stamps (stamp
collecting is a popular hobby), T-shirt, the exotic coins
make a good gift to Chinese.
And the following gifts should be avoided:
1.White or yellow flowers (especially chrysanthemums), which
are used for funerals.
2.Pears. The word for Pear in Chinese sounds the same as
separate and is considered bad luck.
3.Red ink for writing cards or letters. It symbolizes the
end of a relationship.
4.Clocks of any kind. The word clock in Chinese sound like
the expression the end of life.
China is one of those wonderful countries where tipping is
not practiced and almost no one asks for tips. The same
thing goes even in Hong Kong and Macao, except in some
Traditionally speaking, there are many taboos at Chinese
tables, but these days not many people pay attention to
them. However, there are a few things to keep in mind,
especially if you are a guest at a private home.
1. Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl.
Instead, lay them on your dish. The reason for this is that
when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of
sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it.
So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks
like this shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon
person at the table!
2. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone.
It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is
facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed
to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the
3. Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap
on their bowls, so this is not polite. Also, in a
restaurant, if the food is coming too slow people will tap
their bowls. If you are in someone's home, it is like
insulting the cook.