07 June 2010

Chinese cultral Faux pas?

Dear Chinese Guy,

In the middle of July I'm going to Beijing for 2 months. I will be working there with some Chinese students.

I'd like to know what actions and behaviour are seen in China as faux-pas?

What topics should I avoid to not offend anyone ?

I admit that I didn't go over your blog carefully so If there is an answer just ignore me ^^

best wishes,

Polish Girl

Dear Polish Girl

A quick question back to you is have you ever heard of Maciek Swinarski from Gdansk? He is supposed to be a house hold name in Poland. He beat Walter to Merenga in 2009 during the motosiberia 666 project. I'm just curious as to if he is really as famous as everybody says he is (Maciek is crazy swimming across rivers rope in his teeh towing a motorbike)

This is going to be a looong post (note such things do not apply to TCG as TCG is shameless) However these are some of the things off my head. (this post is not particularly lucid I'm afraid)

What offends people of course depends how old they are and their background, the recent modernisation and increases in living standards has narrowed the cultural divide significantly and thus there are less taboos and cultural faux pas of the past. Sex for example NEVER used to be discussed except in absolute private between husband and wife. This of course is dying out which is lucky for TCG as premarital sex is now OK in China. Gone are the days of holding hands on dates by the 10th date you may get to kiss her, by the 150th date you finally get your clothes off and find he (she in my case) is a shit shag. Heh in many Hutong you can find loads of sex shops too quite brazen.

On a drunken bender Ollie, the Dutch guy, two Israelis and me burnt the town down and ended up making a sick joke in a Beijing sex shop. This is of course a contentious issue as there are tons of old people who will not like it while young people are generally easier going.

Some simple ones are of course:

1989 4th and 5th of June the reasoning for this is pretty obvious, this is EXCEPTIONALLY taboo especially in middle class families. Also Taiwan, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, mine disasters, how shit the commie government are etc. Some people will talk about it, a bloke in the 365Inn told me yes he was involved he said we tried we really did.

Insult Mao Zhedong, he still has an enormous number of fans even though he was responsible for an incredible number of attrocities and has the highest body count of all dictators when added together. There are HUGE queues outside his tomb daily which show fandom, if somebody else starts making nasty overtones towards Mao you dodge the question like oh how very interesting. I have never heard it from that perspective before

Death never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever talk about death. Chinese society does not talk about death even though it happens.

Questions such as:

When you die do you... you will likely be cut off here (ironically) dead in the sentence.

Related are white things, chyrathemums, white pins hats etc all representative of death clocks, shoes, books, hats (especially a green one) as gifts all sorts of things of this nature should be avoided.

Chopsticks left standing in rice, again another death related thing. However since Beijing people don't actually eat rice this is easy to avoid.

Did I say don't talk about death?

A related point is never to pet name somebody after somebody who is dead again this is bad.


Face is important, do not openly criticise or worse humiliate people if they mess something up be gentle and try have a private word later. But open humiliation and belittling is a no no, loss of face is very bad. When you go out to dinner you are giving the host face, don't spoil it!


If you are in a leadership role be specific.

Some smaller ones which may or may not be relevant:

  • Addressing somebody it is surname first, Faye Wong for example is not Faye Wong but Wong Fei or Wong-Jing-Man or whatever the hell she calls herself these days.
  • Seriously don't ask for vinegar in Chinese restaurants this is to save YOUR face.
  • Doorways and entryways, step OVER the threshold never on it, stepping onto the this is a grave insult, I have looked high and low but have never found the reasoning for this.
  • Don't point unless you are being insulting to somebody. Use an open hand instead.
  • Business cards are handed name facing towards them both hands, same with gifts.
  • You'll be invited for tea (watch out for the tea house scam they target white people), when you have tea where they use a tea pot capable of more than one cup you pour tea for the other person and they should do this back to you. When it is being poured tap lightly with your finger next to the cup as a sign of respect.
  • When you put the tea pot down don't point the spout towards anybody face it outwards to nobody.
  • Euphemise, while people of Europe and the USA will say fuck me she's ugly or butter face Chinese people will say oh she must have beautiful hand writing.
  • Travelling on the Beijing Metro, don't bring a bag, you will be endlessly scanned searched etc which will annoy others.
  • Ni Hao is old and boring, 你吃了吗 Ni (third tone) Chi(first) Le( First) Ma( third) - literally have you eaten yet? (People still greet me with this in the UK and I'm always eating.
  • Be punctual lateness is a sign of disrespect.
  • Receiving a gift? refuse a few times first. Then open later on
  • Eat what is offered at dinners booze, and strange foods included.
  • Don't use red ink to my dad's dismay I write EVERYTHING in Red ball point pen red everything else though is fine as it is a lucky colour
  • Don't be insulted by the way people will come up to you and ask all sorts of things they won't as you back home. Hey TCG how much does a working girl cost back home? Are you married? Why the hell now? Oh how old are you? How much money do you make? blah blah.

However don't take the above as gospel as things change and people change and people will not be horrifically insulted if you do the don't do things above and will likely overlook things, Though as said the face issue death and politics are the biggies here.


  1. I didn't know his name but I heard about his trip and also I've watched some tv show about it. I guess he is recognized by people intersted in those stuff but i don't think that average people know him.
    thanks for fast reply. I think I'll have more question but first I'll go over your blog.

  2. I heard, don't remember where, that you are not supposed to step on the thresholds of Buddhist temples because it kills good spirits. Not sure if it has anything to do with not stepping on thresholds in China.