Chinese Traditions and Etiquette Tips

Close-Up of Businesspeople Passing Businesscard
Chinese businesspeople passing a business card in the traditional two-handed style. Getty Images/Kaoru Fujimoto/ANYONE

Learning proper Chinese etiquette takes time and practice. The most important thing to remember is to smile, be sincere, and open-minded. The ability to go with the flow and be patient is essential. The following are some Chinese traditions and etiquette tips.

Tips for Making a Great First Impression

It is becoming more and more popular to shake hands upon meeting, but oftentimes, a simple nod is how Chinese will greet each other.

When a handshake is given, it may be firm or weak but don’t read into the firmness of the handshake as it’s not a sign of confidence like in the West but a simple formality. Avoid hugging or kissing during greetings and farewells.

Upon meeting or at the same time as the handshake, a business card is presented with two hands by each person. In China, most name cards are bilingual with Chinese on one side and English on the other. Take a moment to look over the card. It is good manners to make a comment about the information on the card, such as the person’s job title or office location. Read more tips for greetings.

Speaking a little Chinese goes a long way. Learning Chinese greetings like ni hao (hello) and ni hao ma (How are you?) will help your relationships and make a good impression. It is acceptable to give a compliment. When receiving a compliment, the typical response should be one of modesty.

Instead of saying thank you, it is better to downplay the compliment.

If you are meeting for the first time at an office, you will be offered either warm or hot water or hot Chinese tea. Many Chinese prefer to drink hot water because it is believed drinking cold water affects a person’s qi.

Tips about Understanding and Choosing Chinese Names

When doing business in China, it is a good idea to select a Chinese name.

It can be a simple translation of your English name into Chinese or an elaborately chosen name given with the assistance of a Chinese teacher or fortune teller. Going to a fortune teller to pick a Chinese name is a straightforward process. All that is needed is your name, date of birth, and time of birth.

Do not assume that a married Chinese man or woman has the same surname as his or her spouse. While it is becoming more popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan to take or add the man’s name to a woman’s name, most Chinese women typically retain their maiden last names after marriage.

Tips on Personal Space

The concept of personal space in China is vastly different than in the West. On crowded streets and malls, it is not uncommon for people to bump into strangers without saying ‘Excuse me’ or ‘sorry.’ In Chinese culture, the concept of personal space is much different than the West, especially when standing in line to buy something like train tickets or groceries. It is typical for people in a queue to stand very close together. Leaving a gap just invites other people to cut in line.

More Chinese Etiquette Tips