12 Chinese Customs That Might Seem Strange

Josh Wilson
Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Apr 30, 2018

China is a beautiful and ancient culture.  Some of its customs are not seen as normal to the western world, or some things could be seen rude when they are not intended to be.  Here are 12 Chinese customs that you might think are strange at first, but getting used to them will help you feel more a part of the culture and accept what is different.

1.  Tipping can be offensive  

In China, tipping is not customary (only for large tour group leaders) – this is especially true in restaurants in and other service industries.  Chinese take great pride in taking care of themselves, and tipping can be considered offensive for fear that they look poor.

2.  Friendly affection

You will often see women and even men holding hands while walking down the street, or walking arm in arm.  This is not a romantic gesture, but a friendly one. In China, it is quite normal to hold close onto friends and even co-workers when you are walking together and talking (as colleagues are often considered like family in China).


3.  Burping in public

Burping is a sign of satisfaction and gratitude to the chef and hosts. 

4.  Chopsticks in your rice

Never stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice, as it is an offering for the dead.  

5.  Staring & photos of foreigners can be common

Visitors are still uncommon in some parts of China, and especially older generations may be filled with curiosity about you. Don’t be surprised if you get a lot of stares and people even taking photos of you or asking to take photos with you.

6.  Covering up from the sun 

In China, traditionally the whiter the skin the higher your social status is.  This comes from back when laborors were out in the fields, and higher classes could stay out of the sun.  this is also why you will traditionally see people in China using umbrellas when it is sunny.

To this day, white skin is preferred as the ultimate sign of beauty – so many Chinese will go to great lengths to be sure their skin is protected (even wearing full body suits and masks to the beach!).  There is also a booming industry of whitening products at the store, so be careful when you buy facial products and even deodorant – because it could be whitening formulas!

7.  Napping 

Especially after lunch (almost like the Siesta in Spain), Chinese people enjoy napping and taking a rest in the afternoon. Don’t be surprised if you see people napping almost everywhere.

8.  Split pants on babies 

Old traditions die hard, and especially in rural or poor areas, you will see small babies and toddlers walking around with their bare butts hanging out.  This is for potty training purposes…also don’t be surprised if you see them squat down to relieve themselves at any moment, or a parent hold them over a tree (or a trash can) in public.

9.  Refilling tea cups 

It’s customary to never let a tea cup go empty in China.  If you see that cups are getting close to empty, take it upon yourself to refill; however, NEVER serve yourself first.  Always serve others at the table (traditionally starting with the highest level person), and then finally refill your own cup.

10.  Gifts will be refused 

In China it is common to have gifts refused, typically three times, before being accepted.  This is to show being humble and grateful.  

11.  Spitting is common 

Spitting throughout China, the one thing that is very hard to get used to is the constant hacking and spitting sound that you will hear in public.  While the culture is trying to get control of it, overall it is quite standard to see and hear people spitting everywhere…even on public transport.  So watch those feet…

12.  Pointing can be seen as rude 

Pointing in many cultures around the world, and throughout China, pointing with a finger can be considered quite rude.  Instead, use your entire hand to point or gesture.

Accepting Cultural Differences in China

Culture is different from language, it doesn't always translate.  And while something may seem strange or different, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong.  These differences could seem shocking at first, but it's the intent that matters.  Coming to accept these differences is what living in China is truly about.  

Learn more great advice about living in China! Read The Ultimate Guide for Moving to China

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