Nonverbal communication in Chinese

(Photo: Calton, Wikimedia Commons )

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Whether you're relocating to China, there on business or vacationing in the area, learning the basics about Chinese culture proves vital to enjoying your time there. Knowing the country's etiquette protocol and customs will help you navigate challenges ranging from meals to handshakes, and you'll better appreciate the country's sights and people.


In China, nonverbal communication matters as much as the spoken word. Tone of voice, facial expression and overall body language used in Chinese culture determine what someone feels. When speaking to locals, try to maintain a neutral expression to avoid misunderstanding; even a slight frown during conversation is taken to mean disagreement. Also, in Chinese culture, looking someone directly in the eye while speaking to them or in passing is seen as disrespectful.

General and Dining Etiquette

If you're visiting someone in China, bring your hosts a gift, such as a food basket, and always present your gift with both hands. Avoid blue, black or white wrapping paper or gift bags, and do not give gifts of flowers, handkerchiefs or clocks-as the Chinese associate these items with funerals. Also, avoid giving gifts of four, as it's seen as unlucky; eight, however, is a lucky number. Don't be offended if the recipient doesn't open the gift in your presence, as gifts traditionally aren't opened the moment received.

When dining, you will likely be in a restaurant; dining as a guest in someone's home is regarded as an honor in Chinese culture. If dining in a home, remove your shoes. In any setting, sit only after being told where to do so. The dinner host typically begins eating first, so wait for him to start the meal. Signs of being happy with a meal in Chinese culture include the slurping of food, and belching-keep this in mind to avoid any misunderstandings or offense.

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