Chinese etiquette

In China, Chinese etiquette is regarded as the behavior reflecting the concept of ‘the elder for honor’, which is essential in business and daily life. The differences of table manner between china and other nations are not only on the tools of eating but also the sitting sequence, the culture of baijiu and the rules of eating. Thus, learning and mastering Chinese etiquette is considerable for foreigner to establish relationship with work partner on dinner party.

Sitting sequence

In China, there are two main kinds of feast including the dinner party with families or with colleagues, leaders and with contracting partner. The sitting rules of those are really similar.

The key points in the dinner party with families

** In China, there are several main seats that people cannot sit at random.

The seat which faces to the door is the place belong to hero, the person who has the highest status in the family hierarchy sits on the main seat rather than the person who is the oldest.

The seat which opposite with the hero belong to the person who occupies the bottom place in family hierarchy.Liyi 2.jpg

The seats near hero generally belong to guests, as Chinese are always hospitable. It is convenient for the honor to sharing with food or chatting.

For other seats, there is a rule that ‘left is important than right’ and the left and the right is based on the main seat.

People usually sitting down after the honor to show their admiration.

The key points in the dinner party with leaders

All of above rules are similar in the meal with leaders or working partner.

Leader should sit on the crucial place facing the door.

Guests sit down on the right or the left of leader.

Other people should respect the rule that ‘left is important than right’.

** The merely difference is the seat which is opposite with the leader, belonging to the person who also has a high reputation in company.

Tip In this process, people should be careful to choose the optimum seats. If they do not know which one is better, they can wait for the arrangement of the honor avoiding leaving a bad impression for others.

The culture of baijiu

In china, baijiu is an essential part on banquet, which lasting for thousands of years. It is usually called ‘rice wine’ in English speaking countries and is considered having strong taste of alcohol, but it a crucial part for business people in China. There are four main types of baijiu: strong aroma, light aroma, sauce aroma and rice aroma, having diverse kinds of tastes, ingredients, quality and price.Liyi 1.jpg

Taboo! People generally can choose a particular type of baijiu to drink before start drinking but cannot to change or reject to drink it (Mclaughlin 2015).

     ** The rules of drinking baijiu, including pouring part and drinking part.

     Pouring part rules

When eating in restaurant, merely in room, the waitress generally the person who pours the Baijiu for each custom.

If do not have waitress, the person who has lowest position should pour baijiu for each one, respecting the order from the main palace to himself (Jourdan 2013).

The people who receive this service should lift their glass and turn to the person who pouring baijiu to show respect or use the right hand knocking the table lightly beside the glass with three times.

     Drinking part rules

** In China, drinking baijiu usually have two parts: drinking together and drinking separately.

What should do when drinking together

Leader or honor usually leading six times to drink off one glass of baijiu before drinking separately, with some wishing or encouraging languages.

The others only need to keep step with honor.

What should do when drinking separately

People should drink with people according to the sequence of siting, from higher position to lower one.

One person should only drink with one person once, clinking their glasses once time and drinking two times with this partner.

The person who has lower position should put their glass lower than the other person when they clink their glasses, showing their respect (Sandhaus 2014).

During this process, the wishing languages are also required.

Taboo of drinking!

** People cannot just drink with several people, which is not polite!

** People cannot drink three times with a person as it only for the death!

Taboo of eating

** people should not eat before honor!

** people cannot stick the chopsticks straight in rice which for the death!

** people cannot knock the bowl with chopsticks!

** people cannot turn the fish over!

** people cannot talk when food in mouth!


Jourdan, N 2013, ‘China’s baijiu, drink of generals’, Journal of culture, vol. 1, issue 1, pp. 5-11.

Mclaughlin, SU 2015, ‘Baijiu: the Misunderstood Drink of China’, Journal of culture and society, vol. 1, issue 3, pp. 18-24.

Sandhaus, P 2014, ‘Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits’, Journal of culture and society, vol. 4, issue 2, pp. 67-74.

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“白酒” redirects here. It is not to be confused with 燒酒.

A Guide to Chinese Alcohol



Hanxu, which is difficult comprehended by foreigner, is a classical culture and a kind of virtue in China. It means euphemistic express, valuing to thought, which is originated from a Chinese ancient poem of Hanyu. In other words, it means that people are supposed to express indirectly and should consider other people’s face. It also means people should unassertive rather than show off. It is an essential quality in Chinese communication, which can maintain relationships and observe business and social hierarchies (Tony 2011). On the other hand, hanxu is certainly important in people’s daily behavior.

How to use ‘Hanxu’ in communication

–      how to say ‘No’ with friends

In China, saying no directly would cause problems with friends, as refusing people directly can cause embarrassment. For Chinese, when they want reject to some requirement, they usually tell some white lies to protect people’s face.

 For example, when your friend want to invite you to his party on weekend but you do not want to go as you do not know other people, in this case you are supposed to tell your friend another reason, like ‘Sorry, I want to go but I have a date with my girlfriend. I would like to go next time.’ rather than tell the truth. On contrary, if you tell your friend that ‘sorry, I do not want to go your party because I do not know other people’, your friend may feel embarrassed and believe you do not give his face.

This is not equal to lying!

–  how to point out problems to leaders

When working in China, express problems with leaders directly is taboo, needing roundabout and vague (Mclaughlin 2014).

To be specific, when manager gives some advice, which may be not effective, you should not give reflection directly, especially when in front of many people. You should choose an optimal occasion and be implicit, instead of saying like ‘I think it is not effectively’ to say ‘ I think your advice id good but I believe that there is a better strategy for this problem, because …..’ . Hanxu 1

Thus, your leader would accept your suggestion easily, since you have stand in the leader’s shoes. In this situation, you can leave a good impression on your leader, attracting the attention of manager and benefiting for your work.

Taboo!  Employees give advice to leaders directly, especially in front of many people!

Tip!     Giving advice using email or face-to-face.

When point out mistakes, pointing its advantages firstly.

How to use ‘Hanxu’ in behavior

–      learning ‘refusing’ gifts

In China, sending gifts is common in some festival and is common in daily life, such as when people visit someone, they usually bring some gifts.

The host need to ‘refusing’ those gifts at the moment when people come in their house.

For example, they usually say that ‘you do not need bring gifts for me as it is my honor that you come to visit my house’. After dinner, they usually ask visitors to bring those gifts back to show their generosity.

The guests should refuse to bring the gifts back.

–      learning ‘refusing’ praise

When the people who are commended, they generally deny it. Because to reject the high reputation is a main refection of hanxu, it is a good character of humility in China.

For instance, Huangbo, a famous actor in China, is regard as the most powerful celebrity. When he was interviewed on television, he said that there are many people who have created record while he is merely one common actor.

Taboo!  Accept praise directly!

–      learning ‘sharing’ places

The most common phenomenon of ‘sharing’ places is during feast especially with the person who have similar age or job position. In this case, when they need sit down based on different sequence, the person who have higher situation will abdicate the higher position for the other one to show their respect. And the other person generally refuse this suggestion and express thanks for that.

 Taboo!  Sitting on the place directly which belongs to the person who has higher position!

–      trying to dress conservatively

China is a traditional country that has approximately 5000 years’ historical background. There are plenty of regulations still effect on people’s life and consciousness. Chinese regards hanxu as a significant personality, especially for women. They should dress conservatively. Otherwise, they would be attracted the discussion of society, damaging their reputation.

  Taboo!  Women wear low-cut clothes especially with too much colors!

Women wear low-cut clothes in front of elder!



Tony, F 2011, ‘Chinese communication characteristics: A Yin Yang perspective’, Journal of culture and society, vol. 3, issue 2, pp. 108-138.

Mclaughlin, SU 2014, ‘Saying ‘NO’ in China’, Journal of culture and society, vol. 3, issue 4, pp. 54-68.

Work Culture in China

In recent decade, with the expansion of market globalization, more multinational companies tend to develop their business in China. It is no doubt that China has become a new important business market in the world and many international enterprises have set up branches in China. For overseas employees, it is a new cultural experience working in China and this provides an opportunity to gain more work experience in global context. However, work culture which is influenced deeply by Chinese traditional history and culture differs largely from westerns with distinctive characteristics. It is necessary and valuable to understand the differences for overseas employees who are coming to work in China.


–          Challenge Boss?

No! In Chinese workplace, there is a strict hierarchy in management. The typical structure is strong top-down and subordinates are expected to obey their senior manager. A manager is not willing to be challenged or criticized by his employees directly. It is known as saving face influenced by the Chinese culture which argues people in the higher position have right to be respected. In this case, unlike western manager, a Chinese manager tends to act as a controller which would like to manage all the process during the work. Normally, in the Chinese work culture the manager usually gives clear directions to the staff and asks them to complete the work following the guidance.

Tip! If you really want to give some suggestions to your boss, you can tell him privately.

–          Family Culture

Chinese work culture emphasizes a family structure and all social relations are based on this. Being a good employee means to be a proper actor in the company family. For example, if you are the new in the team, you have to respect all the former staff since they are qualified in this company. Besides, as a member in the family, you have to think collectively rather than individually and meanwhile you need to know your position in this structure similar to the family. This is the special culture in Chinses workplace differing from Westerns. The more information you know about this structure, the less conflicts occur.

–          GUANXI (Relationships) is the King

Guanxi is mainly derived from the social philosophy of Confucianism in China, which emphasizes the importance linking oneself to others in a hierarchy to maintain social and economic order (Guanxi 2017). Particularly, guanxi and social guanxi networks are strongly based on the informal implicit mutual obligations, reciprocity and trust. In Chinese workplaces, guanxi has a significant impact on getting benefits and addressing the problems. You can receive insider information to do your work efficiently through guanxi from your close colleagues. For example, you need to finish an urgent work needing some information but you have to do more research. In this case, a colleague who has the information already can support you through guanxi. Thus, working in China, you should understand this culture and know that a good guanxi enables a long-term relationship and brings more convenience to you.

–          Hard Working?

With the integration of global economic, more and more offshore factories have set up in China because of the lower cost. Under this circumstance, Chinese people need to work hard to ensure the cost competitiveness. On the other hand, due to the big pressure in the workloads market, it is necessary to work hard for employees to maintain their jobs. Furthermore, working hard is also treated as a good habit in the workplaces and most bosses are pleased with this since it can build a hard-working environment to motivate all the team members.

But, interestingly, there is another smart ‘hard working’ which is not real. For example, some employees pretend to work hard in front of their bosses while relaxing off office or some of them used to send E-mails at midnight to indicate they work late at night.

Tip! As an intelligent manager from overseas, you need to distinguish which is real and which is disguise because it will lead to the fair evaluation of the employees.


For Western staff, it seems difficult to go into an unfamiliar work environment due to the different culture. The culture barriers are the key problems and knowing them can help you to succeed in the Chinese workplaces. There are some effective steps for you to follow,

  1. Be patient & Open minded – Being calm when confronting barrier and holding a global mindset to new differences and new culture
  2. Spent time to learn the workplace hierarchy
  3. Try to build Guanxi with your new colleagues, such as small talk, participating in team activities.
  4. Be curious in Chinese traditional cultures, such as Chinese unique festivals, history, Chinese.

Nowadays, China is an important market in the global context and paying more attention to Chinese culture will open up more job opportunities for you. Hope you are comfortable in your Chinese work journey!


‘Guanxi’, in Encyclopedia of Wikipedia, viewed 26 April 2017, <;.

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Chinese Work Culture – Still Influenced by Confucius

6 Differences between a Western and a Chinese workplace


Privacy is a term that is often used in daily life but difficult to define strictly. There are two different definitions of privacy which are ‘the right to be alone’ and ‘the individual’s right to control the circulation of information concerning him or her’ (Orito & Murata, cited in Collste 2008, p. 78). It is not difficult to find that privacy is a concept of controlling information within a range and Collste (2008, p. 80) outlines two questions which are ‘how much control?’ and ‘control of what kind of information?’. However, they are largely influenced by the culture of different countries and therefore it is necessary to understand the differences in dealing with privacy issues since this would be helpful for avoiding troubles during communication in daily life and workplaces in another country.


–          Awareness, Weak Vs. Strong

The Awareness of privacy is weak in China. Unlike the private concept of privacy compared to public in Western countries, there is no same word in Chinese equal to the meaning of privacy (Singer 2004). Due to the living style of thousands of years in Chinese history, more than half of the Chinese live in the countryside which is often a family of generations in the same village and this kind of social structure results in a caring life style in a big group. People are very familiar with each other and usually talk about common life topics which involve family, work and other private issues like salary. Generally, the Chinese people believe that the exchange of personal information with family members or acquaintances is a symbol of harmony and friendship therefore the individual concept in China is weaker than that is in Western countries.

Tip! In China, personal information would not be treated as privacy unless it is really bad such as evil. You are not allowed to disclose other people’s bad issues in public or damage others’ reputation.WeChat Image_20170504010809

–          Foundation, Family/Social-based Vs. Self-centred

The boundary of control privacy in Chinese culture is different from that of the West. For Westerners, the privacy means a kind of right based on the scope of individual (Collste 2008). However, due to the Chinese long history culture, the society is family-based collectivism rather than individualism in Western culture (Liang, Gannon 2004). The family is a particularly important social group, which means that the independence of the individual is not so important. Hence, the family is the basic unit to share personal information (Jin, Liang, cited in Chan 2000).

Besides, in western culture, people believe that the individual’s rights are higher than everything due to the value of everyone is equal. However, influenced by the thoughts of ‘Li’ in Confucian, the status of the family members is unequal. Confucianism believes that women should obey men, the wife should follow her husband and the younger generation should obey the elders which constitute the Chinese ethical culture. Thus, there is no secret in family. For example, it is very common for parents to have the ‘right’ to ask their children where to go, as well as some personal information in Chinese family.

Furthermore, because of the attention in guanxi (relationship) in community – a traditional and important Chinese culture – Chinese people are likely to share their personal information as capital that they are proud of getting the appreciation or admiration in public such as working places. During the breaks in office, hot topics are usually related to the family life such as children’s education, relation with parents and colleagues are pleased to exchange opinions each other. But this, apparently, is unbelievable in Western countries.

Tip! Sharing personal information is constrained in close groups which are composed of acquaintance.


With the deepen of globalization followed by the economic reform in China, the awareness of privacy gradually increased in the past 20 years. Most Chinese are more sensitive to some private topics such as wages, personal family life. However, they are still not taboos between family and close friends, which means the personal information are treated as privacy only between unfamiliar. Thus, this is largely limited to the degree of intimacy in the relationship.


In intercultural communication, it is better to respect the diversity of world culture, understand other countries’ culture and do as the Romans do with open attitude. Understanding the differences of privacy would help avoid unnecessary confusion and contradiction. In China, some topics represent caring and they will minimize the distance between each other. Here is some information for you to know when talking with Chinese people.

– Hot topics

‘Chinese concern’: personal issues such as age, marital status, boyfriend/girlfriend

Family: mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, conjugal relationship, children’s education, relative information

Workplace: gossip information related to boss, employee relations

– Taboos!!

Sex, death, politics, religion


Chan, YK 2000, ‘Privacy in the family: Its hierarchical and asymmetric nature’, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, pp. 1-17.

Collste, G 2008, ‘Global ICT-ethics: the case of privacy’, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, vol. 6, issue 1, pp. 76-87.

Gannon, MJ 2004, Understanding global cultures: Metaphorical journeys through 28 nations, clusters of nations, and continents, Sage.

Singer, MG 2004, ‘The concept of evil’, Philosophy, vol. 79, issue 2, pp. 185-214.

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Guide To China – Etiquette, Customs, Culture & Business

How to Communicate with Chinese in China


Gift-giving is a popular international behavior in the world. Although perhaps it is little bit stereotypical, giving gift is still much better than many others. The art of gift-giving differs dramatically in different cultures. Most Chinese believe gift-giving as cultural etiquette rather than simple expression of gratitude in Western countries. In China, the gift-giving behavior plays an important role in relations not only in daily life but in workplace as well and it is influenced greatly by the Chinese cultural values.

However, it is significant to understand gift-giving culture in China since any inappropriate gift would lead to unpleasantness with misunderstanding of the culture. Thus, knowing the Chinese culture of gift-giving would allow you to think in Chinese shoes avoiding embarrassment in the future. After all, gift-giving is for best wishes rather than incurring the trouble.


– Social needs

Gift-giving is the best way to build and maintain the guanxi (relationship) among different members of society especially in the first catch up due to the core value of interpersonal relationships model in China’s long history. To the Chinese, gift-giving has probably been immersed in each Chinese’s cells so far. As the daily habit, in other words, giving a gift is more than its real content. For example, it is impolite to visit others without gift in Chinese custom. Also, due to the Chinese tradition, it is necessary to give gift both in festivals such as Chinses New Year and special occasions like wedding or birthday. In the means of necessary form, gift-giving is a bridge to connect different members in the society.

– Specific purpose

Gift-giving, generally in China, represents a need of demands and this relates to renqing (human obligations) which is another Chinese traditional conception. As the saying goes in China, accept undeserved giving (gift) is weak point to giver. In this culture, the one who accepts the gift needs to return something to the giver and the gift is in the name of obligation or debt which must be ‘repaid’ in the future (king, Hwang, cited in Qian et al. 2007). It is an effective way to give a gift when you want to get benefit from others since you will get what you want after giving. For example, it is very common to give gifts to your boss in order to get promotion in the workplace.


Gift 1Comparing the gift choosing between Chinese and Western culture, they both tend to choose beautiful and usefulness items. In Western culture, practical things using in life are thought to be the usefulness items, but in China, people prefer to give money-RMB (cash) called hongbao (red envelope). They put money into a red envelope and this is a very traditional Chinese culture. For example, in the Chinese New Year, the elders used to give youngsters New Year hongbao which will bring luck in the following year. In Chinese wedding people often give hongbao to couples expressing wishes. Also, if someone celebrates his new born child’s birthday, you should give hongbao to celebrate. Moreover, you can decide how much to give and the closer to the person, the more money you would give.

With the development of information technology and the popularity of social media in China, electronic hongbao becomes a new trend instead of the off-line. No matter where you are, with internet, you can use electronic hongbao all around the world without geographical restrictions. It is more convenient for people to use electronic hongbao transferring care and gratitude to their friends and business can develop new promotion through it. It makes closer relationship between people!


When you are considering about gift-giving in China, you have to notice some KEY MEANINGS linked to Chinese culture otherwise it would lead to embarrassment. Here are some suggestions for you when choosing gift in China.

  1. Double Meanings in Chinese

No !

Clocks: the pronunciation of ‘clock’ in Mandarin is the same meaning of ‘death’.

Umbrellas: the pronunciation of ‘umbrella’ in Mandarin is similar to ‘separate’.

Pears: the pronunciation of ‘pear’ in Chinese is the same meaning of ‘separate’.

Green hat: represents someone has a cheating spouse


Cabbage: sending ‘cabbage’ in China means ‘Kung Hei Fat Choy’

Fish: means abundance

Toad: means money and wealth

  1. Color

No !

Black: represents disaster and mourning

White: represents sad and poverty


Red: represents happiness, joy, and luck

Gold: represents nobility and wealth

Purple: represents nobility, immortality and power

Green: represents peace, health and prosperity

Blue: represents vigor and vitality

  1. Number

No !

4: the pronunciation of ‘4’ in Mandarin is the same pronunciation of ‘death’.


3/6/9: represent luck

8: represents wealth and prosperity

  1. Good things in pairs

It is popular to use ‘good things in pairs’ in China, and therefore all the big joyed things and ceremonies prefer to double rather than single.


Qian, W, Abdur Razzaque, M & Ah Keng, K 2007, ‘Chinese cultural values and gift-giving behaviour’, Journal of Consumer marketing, vol. 24, issue 4, pp. 214-228.

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