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Chinese Manners in Daily Life

[日期:2008-07-22]   [字体: ]

  2. Chinese Manners in Daily Life
 * Getting used to Chinese customs in daily life in China
 * Speech and GREeting conventions
 * Conversation
 * Public Behaviour: Acceptable public conduct?
 * First Name or Title?
 * Official Chinese Holidays
 * Chinese Traditional Festivals

  (1)  Getting used to Chinese customs in daily life in China

China is known as a state of etiquette and ceremonies. Many proverbs have been passed down from generation to generation such as 'civility costs nothing' or 'courtesy demands reciprocity' and so on. For instance, there is an interesting short story. 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.

Chinese used to cup one hand in the other before the chest as a salute. This tradition has a history of more than 2000 years and nowadays it is seldom used except in the Spring Festival. And shaking hands is more popular and appropriate on some formal occasions.

Bowing, as to convey respect to the higher level, is often used by the lower like subordinates, students, and attendants. But at present Chinese youngsters tend to simply nod as a GREeting. To some extent this evolution reflects the ever-increasing paces of modern life.

It is common social practice to introduce the junior to the senior, or the familiar to the unfamiliar. When you start a talk with a stranger, the topics such as weather, food, or hobbies may be good choices to break the ice. To a man, a chat about current affairs, sports, stock market or his job can usually go on smoothly. Similar to Western customs, you should be cautious to ask a woman private questions. However, relaxing talks about her job or family life will never put you into danger. She is usually glad to offer you some advice on how to cook Chinese food or get accustomed to local life. Things will be quite different when you've made acquaintance with them. Implicit as Chinese are said to be, they are actually humorous enough to appreciate the exaggerated jokes of Americans.

As is said above, Chinese consider gifts as an important part to show courtesy. It is appropriate to give gifts on occasions such as festival, birthday, wedding, or visiting a patient. If you are invited to a family party, small gifts like wine, tea, cigarettes, or candies are welcomed. Also fruit, pastries, and flowers are a safe choice. As to other things, you should pay a little attention to the cultural differences. 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. Yourgood intentions or gratitude should be given priority to but not the value of the gifts. Otherwise the receiver may mistake it for a bribe.

(2) Speech and GREeting conventions

Many western visitors to China have had a rude shock: Chinese conversations in public tend to be loud and highly audible - to western ears the conversationalists appear to be arguing. Arguments usually result not in especially loud speech, but in the use of curses and swear words, regardless of sex or age.
  However, Chinese etiquette states that the best way to speak is softly and with one’s head slightly bowed. ‘Answering back’ to those older is considered ill-mannered: the advice of elders should be accepted. Children who answer back or swear are considered bad mannered and their parents are held responsible.
  Chinese men speaking loud are not considered bad mannered: a woman speaking loudly is, and may have abuse and ridicule heaped upon herself.
  The correct way of GREeting a person is very important in Chinese culture: inappropriate greeting is considered very much undesirable. Among strangers, acquaintances or at formal occasions the greeting (in Mandarin) ‘Ni Hao’ (or ‘Nin Hao if much respect is meant) meaning, literally ‘you good?' is used. The phrase ‘Have you eaten?’ is used as a more familiar greeting and testifies to the centrality of food in Chinese culture. Chinese culture considers it impolite to meet someone and not ask him/her to eat: he/she may be hungry!
  The traditional Chinese ‘handshake’ consists of interlocking the fingers of the hands and waving them up and down several times. This is today rarely used (except during festivals, weddings and birthdays of the elderly), and the western style handshake is ubiquitous among all but the very old or traditional. When GREeting, a slight bow often accompanies the handshake, with the bow being deeper the more respect is being proffered to the person, for example an elderly person or someone of high social status.
  The Chinese tend not to GREet those close to them with greetings that may bear a negative slant such as ‘you’re looking sad’ or ‘you’re looking tired’: this is deemed improper. In formal contexts, or when addressing an elder or person with high status it is considered highly inappropriate and rude to address the person by their given name. They should be addressed according to their designation, for example ‘Mr Tang, Doctor Liu, Chairman Lee’ etc.
  Business/name cards are ubiquitous in Chinese business and will almost always be exchanged upon meeting a stranger in such a context. The card should be held in both hands when offered to the other person: offering it with one hand is considered ill-mannered.

 (3). Conversation

  General Guidelines
 
  Before your visit, it will be a good idea to prepare yourself by studying aspects of Chinese culture, history, and geography. Your hosts will appreciate your initiative.
 
  Negative replies are considered impolite. Instead of saying 'no', answer 'maybe', 'I'll think about it', or 'We'll see' and get into specifics later. You'll find that the Chinese will do the same. When your Chinese counterparts smilingly and politely or even enthusiastically say 'No big problem' or 'The problem is not serious', they usually mean 'There are still problems.'
 
  You may be asked intrusive questions concerning your age, income, and marital status. If you don't want to reveal this information, remain polite and give an unspecific answer. Don't express irritation with the questioner, since 'losing face' has such negative implications in this culture. On the other hand, unless you are a very familiar personal friend, do not ask your Chinese hosts about their family although, typically, you can ask 'How old is your child?', 'How long have you been in the work force?' or 'Where is your child studying?' as a means of determining their marital status and age.
 
  In Chinese culture, the question 'Have you eaten?' or or 'Where have you been?' is the equivalent to 'How are you?' in North America; it's just a superficial inquiry that does not require a literal-minded, detailed answer. Simply answer, 'yes', even if you haven't actually eaten or simply smile and say 'thank you.'
 
  Make an effort to learn and use at least a few words in Chinese; your initiative will be noticed and appreciated. Make sure you know the meaning and appropriate occasions for what you say.
 
  You may make general inquiries about the health of another's family, such as 'are all in your family well?'
 
  During a meal, expressing enthusiasm about the food you are eating is a welcome, and usually expected, topic of conversation.
 
  There is no need to avoid mentioning Taiwan. If the subject comes up, never refer to this island as 'The Republic of China' or 'Nationalist China.' The correct term is 'Taiwan Province', or just 'Taiwan.'
 
  'Small talk' is considered especially important at the beginning of a meeting; any of the topics suggested in the next set of points will be appropriate for this occasion.
 
  Welcome Topics of Conversation
 
  Chinese scenery, landmarks
 
  weather, climate, and geography in China
 
  your travels in other countries
 
  your positive experiences traveling in China
 
  Chinese art
 
  Topics to Avoid
 
  Refrain from using the terms such as 'Red China', 'Mainland China,' and 'Communist China.' Just say 'China.'
 
 (4). Public Behaviour: Acceptable public conduct

  The Chinese will sometimes nod as an initial GREeting. Bowing is seldom used except in ceremonies. Handshakes are also popular; wait, however, for your Chinese counterpart to initiate the gesture.
 
  If you visit a school, theater, or other workplace, it is likely that you will be GREeted with applause as a sign of welcome. In turn, you should respond by applauding back.
 
  Avoid making expansive gestures and using unusual facial expressions.
 
  The Chinese do not use their hands when speaking, and will only become annoyed with a speaker who does.
 
  Some hand gestures, however, are necessary. They are outlined in the next two points.
 
  To summon attention, turn your palm down, waving your fingers toward yourself.
 
  Use your whole hand rather than your index finger to point.
 
  The Chinese, especially those who are older and in positions of authority, dislike being touched by strangers.
 
  Acknowledge the most senior person in a group first.
 
  Smiling is not as noticeable in China, since there is a heavy emphasis on repressing emotion.
 
  Members of the same sex may hold hands in public in order to show friendliness.
 
  Public displays of affection between the sexes are frowned upon.
 
  Do not put your hands in your mouth, as it is considered vulgar. Consequently, when in public, avoid biting your nails, removing food from your teeth, and similar practices.
 
  Pushing and cutting ahead is common in lineups among Chinese, but they do not appreciate being cut in front of themselves.
 
  Spitting in public is no longer acceptable. It is subject to a heavy fine now.
 
  Blowing your nose with a handkerchief is also acceptable, but it is advisable to turn away from people while doing so.
 
 (5) First Name or Title?
 
  Addressing others with respect
 
  Chinese names appear in a different order than Western names. Each person has, in this order, a family, generational, and first name. Generational and given names can be separated by a space or a hyphen, but are frequently written as one word. The generational designation is usually the first word of a two-worded first name. This is still popular in some families, especially among the southerners and the overseas Chinese from the south. Most modern Chinese first names are single worded. The first names of those born during the cultural revolution era usually carries political meaning showing support toward Chairman Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing.
 
  Most people should be addressed with a title and their last name. If a person does not have a professional title, use “Mr.”, “Madam”, “Miss”, plus the last name.
 
  A married Chinese woman usually retains her maiden name; she will use her husband's last name on occasions for formal addressing only.
 
  Many Chinese adopt an English first name to make it easier for North Americans and other Westerners to address them. You can expect to hear some rather odd and rare English names as they try hard to be different from others.
 
  Address people using official titles such as “General” “Committee Member”, or “Bureau Chief” whenever possible. It is customary to address the deputies by skipping the word 'deputy,' such as, 'Chief' for 'Deputy Chief,' 'Chairman' for 'Vice Chairman' 'General Manager' for 'Assistant General Manager.'
 
  Unless you're a Communist, never refer to someone as “Comrade.”
 
 (6) Official Chinese Holidays

  New Year's Day (January 1)

  Not as much celebrated as it is in other parts of the world because it is overshadowed by the upcoming Chinese New Year somewhere a month away. However, employees will enjoy a paid day-off. And there will be parties everywhere, in parks, dancing halls and universities where students will leave for the winter vacation.
 
  International Women's Day (March 8)

  Interestingly, women employees will get a whole or an half paid day-off on the day while the men are at the mercy of their employers.
 
  Tree-Planting Day (April 1)

  Highly promoted since the late 70's by the reformist government and yet to become established. It marks the begining of a GREening campaign all over the country during the month each year.
 
  International Labor Day (May 1)

  No less celebrated than the New Year's Day. Employees will enjoy a paid day-off. Celebration parties in parks took the place of parades today.
 
  Youth Day (May 4)

  A day in memory of the first mass student movement in 1919, a movement touched off by the then Chinese government that gave in to the Japanese government's attempt to colonize Shandong Province. It is also an anti-Confucius movement as well as one that promoted the western scientific and democratic ideas. Government organized youth ralleys everywhere in the country today characterizes the celebration of this day.
 
 Children's Day (June 1)

  It is the most momerable day of Chinese kids all over the country. Almost all entertainment places such as cinimas, parks and children museums and palaces are open free to them. Elementary schools throw celebration parties while parents shower them with presents.
 
  The CCP's Birthday (July 1)

  It marked the founnding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 in Shanghai. It is usually characterized by front page editorials from major government newspagers.
 
  Army's Day (August 1)

  A communist-led nationalist army staged the first armed uprising in Chinese communist history against the Nationalists on August 1, 1927. It was regarded as the beginning of the Red Army (later the People's Liberation Army). Now the anniversary is often used to promote better relationships between the army and civilians, a tradition believed to have helped it beat the Nationalists during the civil war in 1949.
 
  Teacher's Day (September 1)

  It was started in the early eighties as an effort to reverse the anti-intellectual sentiment nurtured by the "Cultural Revolution". It is yet to become an established holiday.
 
  National Day (October 1)

  It is the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 in the wake of routing the Nationalists who have since taken refuge in Taiwan. There used to be grand parades squares of major cities of the country. Now celebrations usually take the form of parties in amusement parks by day and fire-works and grand TV ensembles during the evening. Employees enjoy two paid days-off. It is also a good occasion for many people to take a short excursion to enjoy the beauty of the golden Fall.
 
 ( 7) Chinese Traditional Festivals
 
  If you would like to take a broad view of the traditional Chinese festivals, please refer to the article "A Brief Account of Traditional Chinese Festival Customs" by Mr. Zhang Zhiyuan. The calendar the Chinese traditional holidays follow is of a unique lunar-solar system. Therefore, 1st of the 1st month referred here does not necessarily mean January 1.

  Spring Festival (The Chinese New Year) (1st of the 1st month)

  The biggest and most celebrated festival in China and part of East and South East Asia.
 
 Lantern Festival (15th of the 1st month)

  Lantern exhibits, lion and dragon dances, and eating Tang Yuan (ball-shaped boiled sweet rice dumplings with delicious stuffings.) feature this day. It is very much celebrated in the rural areas by farmers. The Lantern Festival also marks the end of the Chinese New Year season.
 
  Qing Ming (Pure & Brignt in Chinese) (Fifth of the 24 Solar Terms)

  Originally it was a celebration of spring. People used to customarily go out on an excursion to "tread grass". Later it became day dedicated to the dear departed. Tidying up ancestors' tombs is its major big event.
 
  Duan Wu (Dragon Boat) Festival (5th of the 5th month)

  Said to be in memory of a GREat patiot poet of the then State of Chu during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), Qu Yuan (Ch'u Yuan), who drowned himself to protest his emperor who gave in to the bully State of Chin. For fear that fish may comsume his body, people of Chu threw launched their boats and started throwing rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river where he was drowned to feed the fish. Now the big event of dragon boat contest may be a legacy of such activity. People today still eat the bamboo-leave rice dumplings on the occasion today.
 
  The Seventh Eve (7th of the seventh month)

  It is a traditional holiday almost lost to the younger generations today. It originates from a beautiful legend about a cowboy and a fairy who were crually separated and renunited once each year on this happy sad occasion. A more detailed story is forthcoming.
 
  Mid-Autumn Festival (15th of the eighth month)

  It is second only to the Chinese New Year in significance. The moon on this day is the fullest and largest to the eye. Viewing it by the whole family while feasting on good wine, fruits and moon-cakes features the night event. There is also a beautiful story behind it. Children are told that there's fairy on the moon living in a spacious but cold crystal palace with her sole companion, a jade rabbit. A heavenly general and friend would occasionally pay her a visit, bringing along his fragrant wine. She would then dance a beautiful dance. The shadows on the moon made the story all the more credible and fascinating to the young imaginative minds.
 
 (8). Numbers
 
  Numbers play a role second only to food in Chinese custom and culture. It is believed that numbers can determine a person’s fate- for example in the naming of a child.
  Certain numbers are considered lucky, and others unlucky. The luckiest number in Chinese culture is eight, as the Chinese for eight sounds like the word for ‘lucky’. Four, conversely is a very unlucky number as in Chinese it sounds like the word for death. Thus Chinese adhering to the customs try to avoid the number four in, for example, car number plates, house addresses etc. Seven can also signify death, and '1' loneliness.
  Related Articles:
 1, Introduction: Chinese Culture in General
 2.Chinese Manners in Daily Life?
 3. Everyday Eating Customs in China
 4. Business Practices, Values and Conduct in China?
 5. Chinese Business Negotiation Style and Its Implications for Foreign Companies?

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