China has its own etiquette customs, which may be different from those of westerners’ manners, because of differed cultural and historical views of social decorum. When you travel to China, a better understanding of Chinese etiquette is essential.
Handshaking is considered formal greeting behavior in China. It is used to show respect, but only if the person is someone important, like a government official or a businessman. The grip should be firm, but not overly strong, and should not be prolonged because Chinese, like other Asians, prefer a brief handshake. After shaking hands, you may exchange your name or the title of your company with each other and then proceed to carry out the affairs.
Mianzi, commonly referred to as ‘face’, is a reflection of a person’s level of status in the eyes of his or her peers. Having ‘face’ means you are viewed by your peers, superiors, and subordinates as one in harmony with the prevailing disposition of society. It is a subtlety that is not openly discussed in Chinese society, but exists as a conversational skill nonetheless. As a foreigner, it is not necessary to take Mianzi too seriously when engaged in discussions that may be confusing. Mianzi can best be understood as the avoidance of embarrassment in front of others. Otherwise, it can be considered to be impolite.
‘Courtesy demands reciprocity’, goes an old Chinese saying, and the advice is an indispensable part of social interactions. It is important to both private and business relationships. The best choice for the initial meeting is a gift that expresses some unique aspect of your country. The gift wrapping should be red or any other festive color. White and black are ominous and should be avoided. It is not proper, and is even considered to be unfortunate, to take a clock as a gift or to choose one having to do with the number four, which sounds like death in Chinese. Even though even numbers are considered as good luck, the number four is an exception. Do not brag about your gift in front of the recipient, and you should use both hands when presenting it. Generally, the recipient may graciously refuse the present when first offered. In this case, you should correctly assess the situation and present it once again. If the recipient did not open your gift, it does not mean that he or she is not interested in it. It is polite to open it after you leave.
In China, a gift is also necessary when visiting a family. But it is not as complex as the above situation. Usually, flowers, common fruits and food are okay. As for alcohol, you had better check whether the person enjoys it or if they have such a hobby. During lunch time, hosts will ask you to have more food or alcohol. If you do not want to disappoint them, you can have a little more according to your situation. If you are truly full, you had better refuse directly, otherwise, the hospitable hosts will continue to refill your bowl.
If you follow the usual rules of etiquette in China, you will extend the proper respect to the people. But there is no need to worry more about the cultural barriers, for the warm and friendly Chinese will try their best to respect your customs when communicating.