[Elfsea] A look at Chinese etiquette

angelinblackink angelinblackink at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 1 18:26:12 PDT 2007

   I have decided that, in attempting a better level of understanding between western and Chinese persona, to post some info here on Chinese etiquette as I know it.  I'm no expert but these are a few traditions of etiquette that might be useful to know.  I hope that, after this, my persona won't seem so outlandish and rude.
  Xie xie,
  Xue Xianxian
China has often been referred to as the Nation of Etiquette. According to many westerners, however, Chinese people often act in what appears to be a discourteous manner. The reason for this anomaly lies in the different cultural and historical views of social decorum. In order to avoid unnecessary mistakes and embarrassment during communications, a better understanding of Chinese etiquette is essential.
  Key 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. 
Mianzi, is a reflection of a person's level of status in the eyes of his or her peers. Having 'face' means you are viewed by your peers, superiors, and subordinates as one in harmony with the prevailing disposition of society. It is a subtlety that is not openly discussed in Chinese society, but exists as a conversational skill nonetheless. As a foreigner, it is not necessary to take Mianzi too seriously when engaged in discussions that may be confusing. Mianzi can best be understood as the avoidance of embarrassment in front of others. Otherwise, it can be considered to be impolite.
  Li - Originally li meant to sacrifice, but today it is translated as the art of being polite and courteous. Proper etiquette preserves harmony and face. 
  Keqi - Ke means guest and qi means behavior. It not only means considerate, polite, and well mannered, but also represents humbleness and modesty. 
  Getting to Know Each Other 
   The Chinese usually do not like to deal 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. 
  Social 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 comfort.   
   Instinctively 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 required.   
   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 considered rude. 
   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 eating  

  Gift Giving: 
'Courtesy demands reciprocity', goes an old Chinese saying, and the advice is an indispensable part of social interactions. It is important to both private and business relationships. The best choice for the initial meeting is a gift that expresses some unique aspect of your country. The gift packaging should be red or any other festive color. White and black are ominous and should be avoided. It is not proper, and is even considered to be unfortunate, to take a clock as a gift or to choose one having to do with the number four, which sounds like death in Chinese. Even though even numbers are considered as good luck, the number four is an exception. Do not brag about your gift in front of the recipient, and you should use both hands when presenting it. Generally, the recipient may graciously refuse the present when first offered. In this case, you should correctly assess the situation and present it once again. If the recipient did not open your gift, it does not mean that
 he or she is not interested in it. It is polite to open it after you leave.
  Once upon a time, a man went on a long tour to visit his friend with a swan as a gift. But it escaped from the cage on the way and in his effort to catch it, he got hold of nothing but a feather. Instead of returning home, he continued his journey with the swan feather. When his friend received this unexpected gift, he was deeply moved by the story as well as the sincerity. And the saying 'the gift is nothing much, but it's the thought that counts.' was spread far and wide. 
  Contrary to Westerners, odd numbers are thought to be unfortunate. So wedding gifts and birthday gifts for the aged are always sent in pairs for the old saying goes that blessings come in pairs. Though four is an even number, it reads like death in Chinese thus is avoided. So is pear for being a homophone of separation. And a gift of clock sounds like attending other's funeral so it is a taboo, too. As connected with death and sorrow, black and white are also the last in the choice. Gift giving is unsuitable in public except for some souvenirs. Your good intentions or gratitude should be given priority to but not the value of the gifts. Otherwise the receiver may mistake it for a bribe
  Family Visiting: 
In China, a gift is also necessary when visiting a family. But it is not as complex as the above situation. Usually, flowers, common fruits and food are okay. As for alcohol, you had better check whether the person enjoys it or if they have such a hobby. During lunch time, hosts will ask you to have more food or alcohol. If you do not want to disappoint them, you can have a little more according to your situation. If you are truly full, you had better refuse directly, otherwise, the hospitable hosts will continue to refill your bowl.

Finding fabulous fares is fun.
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