Tradition of China — Daily and Table Etiquette
In the tradition of China, everyone was required to follow certain rules, based on their social status and age; sitting, walking, or eating all had strict criteria.
According to Confucianism, the dominant philosophy in the history of China, the hierarchy, and proper etiquette are important in daily lives. That is the foundation of a decent and stable society.
Nowadays, these rules are not as rigid and complicated as before; however, some etiquettes are still followed on important occasions, which was considered as the representative of good manners.
Walking Etiquette in Tradition of China
In the history of China, while walking with someone with higher status or from an older generation, people should lower their heads, bend down, and walk a little bit behind him/her.
If someone needed to pass by an elder or a superior, they should bow down, and walk fast using smaller steps.
In the past, except with an emperor, people wouldn't walk in the middle of roads or stand in the middle of a door; they were supposed to walk or stand on one side.
Nowadays, most of these requirements are not strictly applied, unless in very important or official occasions.
Sitting Etiquette in Tradition of China
In daily etiquettes of Chinese culture, the seating order is an important representative of status; this is still widely, even strictly, applied in China today, in both family and business dinner.
Everyone should be sitting in an appropriate position at dining tables or other gatherings, based on their status and age.
If someone doesn’t know the exact position, he or she should wait and follow the host’s lead.
In Chinese culture, the best seat is the one that faces the east or the door, while hosts always sit facing the west.
The second-best seat faces the south; then are those face the north or back to doors, usually the positions for juniors.
Meeting Etiquette in Tradition of China
Throughout the history of China, people with the same status or from the same generation usually do the Fist and Palm Salute when they encountered.
When visiting other people’s homes, or showing gratitude, celebrating, apologizing, asking for help, or returning the lower status' people’s salute, one should do Zuo Yi (like Fist and Palm salute, but with lower head and bend down a little).
If people meet with someone older or superior, people salute using Tian Yi (like Fist and Palm, but with straightening the arms and solemn bow). There were slight differences in detail between men and women, but the main etiquette didn't change much.
Until the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912), everyone should kowtow when they encountered a superior; civilians should kneel to government officials, and ministers should fall down to the emperors.
Nowadays, things are much more casual; shaking hands, simply say hi, or just smile and nod are all OK.
Eating Etiquette in Tradition of China
In ancient China, the numbers of dishes were restricted based on people's status and age, but people with higher status or older age could award their dishes to other people.
Gradually, with the development of agriculture, the restriction was eased.
However, there are some certain table manners that have been applied throughout history.
Before dinner on important holiday or event, guests should follow the host to put some dishes on the table, and pour some wine on the ground to salute to ancestors.
On the table, dishes with bones and dry dishes should be put on the left side, while meat, soup and wine should be placed on the right side.
The heads of fishes should be facing the most important and honorable guest.
Nowadays, these restrictions are not strictly applied in China, however, some other rules still should be followed.
People should be sitting in an appropriate position at dining tables or other gatherings, based on their status and age, following the host’s lead.
Eating or drinking should be led by people with higher status, older age, or the host; it's not polite for other people to eat or drink earlier than them.
When eating with a group of people, it’s not OK to just eat from one or two dishes, no matter how much you love that.
It’s not polite to blend soup of a dish with rice in front of the host, because it implies that the host didn’t provide enough good dishes.
It is also considered impolite to eat too fast, or put too much food in the mouth, or sigh; talking with other people when food is in the mouth is very rude as well.
Chopsticks are used for eating dishes, and spoons should be used for drinking soups.
Hosts and younger people shouldn’t finish or leave the table first.
After eating, it is nice for guests to collect dishes and leftovers, and hand them to servants; they could stop if the host told them not to.
Drinking Wine Etiquette in the Tradition of China
Hosts should pour wine for guests in turn, based on their status and ages; if there is no big difference among guests, then they pour clockwise.
People also need to pour wine for elders, leaders, or important guests when their cups are almost empty; one should always refill his own cup last.
When toasting, people usually put their cup a little bit lower than others', unless you are older or a superior.
A person could get toast from many people, but do not toast to many at once, except for the oldest or the superior.
While toasting to people with higher status or older age, people should stand up and bow a little, and face the person whom they are toasting to, unless they are told this is not necessary.
In Chinese culture, the toasting order is important as well.
Firstly, the host would toast to elders, as well as to superiors or the most special guest, then to other guests; usually important guests would toast back to the host.
Afterward, the rest could start toasting to each other. If there is no especially important person, then the toasting proceeds clockwise.
It is suggested that one always say something nice when proposing a toast, and always use two hands to hold the wine glass.
If an elder or important guest toasts to you, you should stand up and say thank you.
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