China is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, churning out breakthrough after breakthrough at record rates. But it’s also a deeply traditional and conservative country at its heart – and one that takes its culture seriously. If you’re taking a trip to China, it pays to do a little research to avoid causing unnecessary offence. Here’s a crash course on what not to do in China before you take off.
What not to do when visiting China
1. Talk politics or death
While people living in China do enjoy some degree of freedom of expression, there are a lot of taboo subjects. Universal values, freedom of speech, civil rights and foreign policy are contentious subjects. Politics is a sensitive topic for Chinese citizens and any conversations are likely to get awkward.
2. Accept a compliment graciously
In China, being humble is good manners. So if you go for dinner a someone’s house and compliment the food, don’t expect a gracious nod and a ‘thank you’. More often than not, they’ll point out how poorly executed it was. The same applies to children. Even if you think you’ve got the most gorgeous and intelligent offspring, feign humility and tell anyone who tells you so that they are actually stupid and ugly. No one likes a self-congratulatory boaster in China.
3. Get rowdy in public
Public displays of anger in China are seriously frowned upon.
4. Buy without bargaining
There’s a saying that ‘everything in China is negotiable. That isn’t strictly true and you shouldn’t bargain in department stores or supermarkets. But most independent shops will expect a bit of bargaining. It’s worth learning a few phrases like ‘Ni hao ma?’ (How are you?) or a ‘Duo shao qian?’ (How much?) before launching into it. Start with more inexpensive items and work your way up to the bigger bargains.
5. Forget to use your chopsticks properly
There’s a whole chopstick etiquette in China. Firstly, you should keep them jointed together at the side of your plate or on the small block when you’re not using them. Never cross them on the plate as that’s a sign of denial. You should never offer or receive food with your chopsticks as this is associated with a Chinese funeral rite when cremated bones are passed from person to person. Don’t stick the chopsticks into your food either, since this resembles the incense sticks you offer to the dead.
Other social faux pas includes pointing them at individuals, playing with them and poking your food with them.
6. Get too touchy-feely
Personal space is highly prized in China. In general, people in China greet each other with a wave – even a formal handshake is a little too intimate. Don’t expect a hug either and definitely don’t rush into a kiss on the cheek.
7. Disrespect temples inadvertently
Take the lead from Chinese people when you’re visiting temples. For example, if they’ve taken off their shoes, follow suit. If any doors are closed, ask permission before entering. When it comes to interacting with Buddhist monks, there are a few things to bear in mind too. Monks don’t eat in the afternoon, so be mindful about eating around them then. You should never be higher up than a monk either, so if a monk is sitting down you should too. Women should never touch a monk.