Chinese Table Manners

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Familiarity with Chinese table manners and other Chinese cultural elements can speed up your personal or business dealings unexpectly while a Chinese visa can only let you enter China.

As a part of Chinese dining customs, table manners are important in subtle ways. It may reflect who you are in other's eyes, and in turn it may affect your relationship with people who you dine with. If it is a business meal, it may affect your business success.

On this page we'll cover topics on dining table, seating, what are the right and forbidden ways to use chopsticks and teapot positions, etc.

Dining Table Seating

The most commonly used dining table in China is in a round shape, many with a turntable on top. It symbolizes harmony and is pretty practical in use. It can accommodate more people, the food is equally accessible to everyone, the ambience is warmer, everyone can see everyone without turning heads, and the seating is more flexible.

Part of the Chinese table manners is seating. Here is details. (Link will be added soon.)


Sharing is a characteristic of Chinese meals. Every dish is put on the table, and people are supposed to take food from them.

The hospitality is shown by the number of dishes. If you are treated by a Chinese host, don't be surprised when you see that there is much more food than you can eat. The tons of food are a way to tell you that you're very welcome. They'd rather have a lot left than a little less than what's needed. The latter is considered "losing face."

When it's your turn to be a host, respect the Chinese table manners by doing the same would be appropriate.


While Chinese hosts normally try their best to go along with the custom and tastes of their guests, they are pretty under their own cultural influence. For example, the host often will persuade you to eat more, and more, and more even though you've said that you are full.

The persuasion can be a pressure and may make you feel uncomfortable, but this is just one of the Chinese table manners. It's a very common way to show their hospitality and to show that you are a valued guest. It's not that they don't digest your words, they often think that you are just showing your politeness.

And the host may also take portions of the dishes from the sharing plates to your plate for you with their own chopsticks or spoons, especially the ones they think are very good dishes. This may be very shocking to you, but it's not rude at all in their culture; on the contrary, this is to show you that you are very welcome and that you're respected.

For this very reason, in a Chinese multi-generation gathering, adult children often take food for their parents to show respect, and the parents with little kids do the same thing for their young to show care. It's been this way for thousands of years, and they've been used to it so much that it became part of the norm and won't see it the way you see it.

However, if you are in big cities or areas that exposed to other cultural customs, the chances like this are slim. They'll show you their hostipility by using a spoon or a pair of chopsticks that dedicated for sharing.

Do and Don't in Using of Chopsticks

There are certain "does" and "don'ts" involved in Chinese table manners when it comes to chopstick - the main eating tool used in Chinese dining.

Do choose to use chopsticks when you are asked if you'd like to have them for your meal. They don't mind if you say no to chopsticks, but if you say yes and show your willingness and interest in their ways of dining, they are delighted. You might have a more humorous and harmonious meal together. And a good relationship leads to many good things.

Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl when you're not using them. The right way is to put them down at the side of your bowl or on your plate. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. If you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it brings the shrine image to the table and seemingly is to wish death upon a person at the table! If people at the dining table are serious about this kind of belief, it can seriously affect you if you are in business with them.

Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. There are certain images associated with this tapping, like beggars tapping on their bowls, impatient people tapping their bowls in a restaurant when they think the food is coming too slow, etc. If you are in someone's home, or at a restaurant, it is not polite, actually insulting, behavior.

Tea and Tea Pot

"If there is no tea, there is no Chinese meal." A saying like this expresses how important tea is to Chinese meals.

There are certain tea etiquette on dining table. How to position the teapot spout is one of the Chinese table manners. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is very impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.

If you are seated close to the tea pot, it's best if you could pour tea for others. Pour for yourself the last. Of course if you are a guest, you're not expected to do so. However if you do, you score higher in others' eyes unless it's a serious business meal and your position asks you not to do so.

Wine and Alcohol

Wine and alcohol are very common in a Chinese meal. Many believe there is no hospitality if there is no liquor. Among their own business dealings, drinking is partially fun, partially battle, and partially bonding. Dinking until drunk sometimes is one of the good Chinese table manners. It shows how much you treasure your relationship with each others in certain situations.

When it comes to international dealings, drinking is not as serious as among themselves due to their custom of respecting guests' customs. This offers you a grey area where you can turn either way depending on your goals.

Gan Bei is the word used often on dining table. It can means "Cheers" sometimes, but literally it means “dry (the) glass”.

Besides beer, the official Chinese alcoholic beverage is Bai Jiu, "white liquor" if translated literally. It's high-proof (made from assorted grains).

There are various degrees of Bai Jiu. The national alcohol beverage is Maotai from Guizhou province. A less expensive one is Wuliangye. Beijing's favorite is called Er Guo Tou, which is a whopping 56% alcohol.

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