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Customs and taboos in China

Are you familiar with the saying ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’? Well, a visit to China could be viewed in much the same way with regard to its cultural background. As although China is becoming more and more accommodating to its foreign visitors with, before you travel to China we still suggest that you take a little time to learn about its more common custom and taboos to help avoid embarrassing situations. 

**Here are some tips which you may find a help to give a basic gist of the Chinese society**

►Things that should not be used as a gift for the Chinese:
While you are in China, you may be helped by someone and want to give him or her a gift to show your gratitude. Or you may meet someone who is congenial to you and would like to give him or her a gift in memory of your friendship before you leave China. How to select a nice gift to show your sincerity? You should obey some rules. For example, school things such as pens, school bags are always good gifts for the children. Scarves, perfume and flowers can be pleasant gifts for female friends. For the elders, you can choose some health products. For men, you can give them ties, pens as gifts. But you should avoid giving things listed below as a gift. 

1) Bell & Clock:
You definitely should not give a bell or clock to your Chinese friend as a gift. It is because 送钟, the Chinese version of “give a bell or clock as a gift” sounds exactly the same with 送终, the Chinese version of “say goodbye to the dying”. Bells which cannot be used as a gift refer to those heavy big ones made of metal. Those small bells such as jingle bells used for decoration are ok. 

2) Chrysanthemum & Rose
Similarly, in Chinese culture, the Chrysanthemum is often used to mourning the passing of a loved one and so is hardly a fitting gift to celebrate a happy moment or memory. The rose, however, signifies an even strong romantic gesture than it does in Western Culture, so should not be offered as a gift to a Chinese friend unless you are trying to convey your deepest feelings towards them. 

3) Fan & umbrella
Fan and umbrella cannot be used as a gift for married couples too because 扇, the Chinese version of “fan”, and 伞, the Chinese version of “umbrella” sound similar to 散, which can be translated into “separate”. If you give a fan or an umbrella to the newly weds as a gift, it gives a impression that you are wishing to part the couple or that you think the wedding was a mistake and are suggesting that they get a divorce soon. 

4) Green hat
Green hat is a metaphor and is only associated with men. If a man wears a green hat, it simply means his wife is cheating on him. So never give a green hat to a Chinese male. In fact, you should not even mention it as it is treated as an great insult. 

5) Book
A book is a good gift for the children but not for people who are addicted to winning. This is because 书, the Chinese version of "book" sounds the same with 输, the Chinese version of "fail". 


► Table manners:
When you are invited to a local family for dinner or attend a business meal, you need to get yourself prepared for the table manners of the Chinese, which are quite different from the Western society. 

1) In China, dishes are put together in a table and all the diners sit around it and share the dishes. You should help yourself to the food. 

2) The Chinese prefer to talk happily while dining. Jokes as well as daily funny happenings are always a good topic. 

3) They toast frequently. If you are tea total or get drunk easily, you need to say you don't drink beforehand to save being challenged by others at the table. 

4) The hostess or host may pick up food with chopsticks and put the food in your bowl. It is a sort of hospitality. You should take it as a sign of honor and offer thanks. 

5) With chopsticks, you should always place them horizontally over your bowl. Do not lay them on the table or stick them vertically into the rice bowl as this is a sign of offering a sacrifice. 

6) While dinning, passing the food to your elders before taking it for yourself is considered good manners. Also, if someone proposes a toast, make sure that the rim of your glass is lower than the rim of the person more senior. It is a sign of respect. 

7) Do not bang your chopsticks on your bowl like drumsticks as it is a sign of begging. 

8) The host will continuously pour drinks to every one to make sure that their cups are not empty for long. If you don’t want any drinks, you can simply say no and offer thanks. If you are thirsty and no one has poured you a drink for awhile then you should always offer to pour for a neighbor first and then yourself, never just yourself as this is another impoliteness. 


1) You should avoid saying anything related to death in a happy situation. 

2) You should not offer to share a pear with your Chinese friend and cut it into two halves, as it implies separation. 

3) In the mosques
Cover your arms to the elbow, and your legs above the knees as a minimum
Don't shake hands with the opposite gender
Wearing a scarf over the head is a courtesy, but not obligatory 

4) Along the Silk Road (Kashgar, Urumqi etc.)
Don't order pork in a Muslim restaurant (guide can help identify Muslim restaurants)
Avoid "sensitive" questions, e.g. relations between ethnic groups
Alcohol, cigarettes: ask first and then behave in accordance with the answer (generally don't expect alcohol in a Muslim restaurant)
In Xinjiang province the prices are not over the top, so be reasonable when negotiating, rather than the harder bargaining of the eastern seaboard.



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