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Chinese Etiquette

China has often been referred to as the Nation of Etiquette. According to many westerners, however, Chinese people often act in what appears to be a discourteous manner. The reason for this anomaly lies in the different cultural and historical views of social decorum. In order to avoid unnecessary mistakes and embarrassment during communications, 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 (Face):
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.

 Gift Giving:
'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.

 Family Visiting:
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.

 Chinese Names & Form of Address

A complete Chinese name is composed of two parts; a family name (surname) and a given name. Chinese surnames originated from the matriarchal clan society about five thousand years ago. There are numerous surnames, but the exact number is not available. An intellectual in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) wrote a book titled 'Bai Jia Xing', meaning 'hundreds of surnames'. In the book are over five hundreds family names of Chinese including over sixty compound surnames (a compound surname is composed of two characters). It is said that Zhang, Wang, Li, Zhao and Liu are the most popular single surnames, and that Zhuge, Oyang, Situ, etc. are the most familiar compound family names.

Chinese names have their own traditional features. The surname, generally one character coming first, is usually passed down from father to children. Chinese women still kept their surname after marriage. The given name is often composed of one or two characters that are meaningful and hopeful. Some are named after their birth place, while others are named after natural sights or virtues. Boys' names usually show force or valor, while the names of girls are composed of soft and beautiful characters. Nowadays, Chinese names are not as complex as the ancient names with alias and more and more parents would like to choose the rare characters with significant senses for their child to avoid the similar or unisonant given names with other people.

Here are some points on addressing a Chinese person. We usually address a Chinese person by his or her family name. Otherwise it can be considered impolite; unless you are longtime, good friends. Following the surname, use Xiansheng (Mr.) for men, and Nvshi (Ms.) or Xiaojie (Miss.) for women. Using the same western custom, we suggest that you add professional title after his or her family names when addressing a very important person. For example, we address President Hu Jintao as Hu Zhuxi, Minister Wen as Wen Zongli, and Manager Zhang as Zhang Jingli, etc.