Chinese Customs you should know if you live in China

One of the most important things to do before arriving in China is learning the local customs and traditions. Chinese people probably have a radically different perspective on life than you do, so preparing ahead of time may save you a whole lot of trouble later on.

Chinese Customs You Should Know If You Live In China 1

Greet the right way

Chinese people don’t touch each other when they greet each other. They just say “hello”. There are different hellos for different situations. For example:

“Ni hao”: This is the most basic greeting to greet a single person.

“Nin hao”: This is used for showing respect to for example a teacher.

“Wei”: This is said instead of “ni hao” when answering the phone.

“Ni hao ma?” means “How are you?” but is only used if you have a real reason to ask how someone is doing, e.g. if someone just fell down. Chinese people don’t often casually ask how someone is doing.

“Ni Zenmeyang? is a casual way of asking how someone is doing, similar to a casual “How are you?” or “What’s up?” It’s used more by younger people.


Related article: Making Friends in China: Piece-of-Cake or… Nightmare?


Chopsticks and other table etiquette

There are things Chinese do differently from the rest of the world while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner… chopsticks!

Chopstick are easy?

Chopsticks are replacements for forks in Asian countries. Truth is: You could make use of forks, but you would be ruining it. Although the video below explains how to use Japanese chopsticks, the same principles apply to using chopsticks in China.

A few points to consider:

  • Avoid placing chopsticks vertically into food. It brings back memories of funerals, and you wouldn’t want that. Instead, lay chopsticks horizontally across your bowl.
  • Skewering food with chopsticks is strange but okay if you are a foreigner.
  • Waving chopsticks around in the air looks disrespectful.


One of the most important things is the seating. If there is an important guest, you shouldn’t sit until they do. Formal or informal introductions should take place.


Most people are particular about how someone eats. They say it judges one’s character and morals.

Make sure older people in the gathering start eating first before making your move. While picking up a bowl, place your thumb on the top of the bowl and your remaining fingers at the bottom.

Don’t make loud noises when eating. But, one way to express gratitude after the meal is by burping.

Traditionally, a host welcomes guests with tea. Never leave your guests’ teacups empty when you are the host; constantly refill them without asking.


Related article: Where to Teach in China for the Best Food

Related article: Grocery Shopping in China: Pitfalls and Challenges

Related article: Living in China: How to Eat Well in China

eating chopsticks

Other important customs and behaviors in China

  • Gifts are often rejected a few times and finally accepted.
  • China will make you get used to seeing people spit in public.
  • Many locals will want to take a photo with you if you’re a foreigner (who also looks like a foreigner).

Related article: Will You Get Culture Shock?

Things not to do in China

There are some things you shouldn’t do because they are considered rude, disrespectful or inappropriate. For example:

  • In places like Tibet and Jiuzhaigou, pointing at people with your index finger is rude. If you want to point at someone, it is best you make use of your full hand with your right or left palm facing upward and point with all your fingers.
  • Tips are not accepted.
  • Do not take compliments graciously because they believe it is vanity.
  • Never interfere with religious beliefs.
  • Old people shouldn’t be considered “aged”, because they want to believe they are still agile and able to do anything they want to. In fact, you will find many old people doing business.
  • Don’t destroy the harmony! For example, do not discuss politics. There is not much to gain by “winning”, it is closer to a lose-lose situation than a win-lose situation. It is also disrespectful to argue with older people, even if you are objectively right. Instead, you will embarrass them (similar to a child beating an adult at a game in the west) and the discussion will go on indefinitely.

Related article: Your First Time in China: How to Avoid Culture Shock

Chinese Customs You Should Know If You Live In China 2

The best way to learn is…

In conclusion, there are many customs and behaviors you would have to get used to when you start your life in China. Although some may be challenging to get used to, many will become your second nature before you know it. The best way to learn this is to experience it!


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