What are the table manners in China?

Whether you are having dinner with your friends, dining at a restaurant, or when eating at home with the family, good table manners are an essential part of every meal you have. When you are well acquainted with good table manners, you are well equipped with the most essential tool for social interaction that will serve you for a lifetime, no matter where you go. With good etiquette, you automatically become a pleasant companion for both family dinners and get-togethers with friends. Also, you will feel comfortable dining in public or anyone else’s house.

Here, we will look extensively into the history of Chinese table manners and table manners do’s and don’ts. We will also identify about 5 of the most important table manners in China.

History of Chinese table manners

Since time immemorial, China has been led by royalties. For this reason, it was perhaps one of the fastest communities to embrace good etiquette and was able to accommodate different ideas of polite social interaction within a short period. Looking back into China’s history, we can say that the whole idea of table manners began during the time of the Confucian philosopher.

At the time, he believed that one cannot separate food from friends, and he preferred to drink with his townsmen at his table. He would only leave the dining table once all his elders left, and this greatly informed the hierarchical ties associated with wining and dining etiquette. When dining with friends and family, he would stand and give thanks to the host for the great meal.

Aside from that, some historical records also show that table manners in China began with the duke of the Zhou dynasty. The duke wrote a ceremonial book, which became the etiquette guide during the reign of the Han dynasty. Since then, the rules have been binding to the Chinese people and informs Chinese food culture. To date, the rules remain a great treasure.

What are Chinese table manners do’s and don’ts?

Table manners Do’s

  • Show respect for others by keeping your phone silenced, out of your hand, or completely off the table.
  • When taking a break, put the chopsticks towards the side of your plate or bowl, or on the chopstick rest if you have been given one. When you leave your chopsticks on top of your plate, it means that you have finished eating.
  • If you have been invited to a friend’s home for dinner or lunch, some serving utensils may not be present. When this happens, turn your chopsticks around moving from the communal bowls to your bowl.
  • Lift huge chunks of meat using your chopsticks, then nibble slowly instead of putting the entire chunk into your mouth. This also applies to large meat pieces such as fried chicken or pork chops.
  • Towards the end of your meal, you are always given toothpicks. If you choose to use the toothpicks, hold them in one hand, then cover your mouth with the other hands. That way, you look more civilized.

Table Manners Don’ts

  • Do not click your chopsticks together, especially when trying to move anything other than food or just so you can make a clicking sound with them.
  • Do not use your chopsticks for gesturing in the air when trying to talk to the person seated across the table.
  • Do not leave your chopsticks pointing directly at the person seated across the table. You ought to angle them slightly to avoid sending the wrong message. This is because placing the chopsticks vertically is a symbol of death in China.
  • Avoid sucking sauce or rice grains off the end part of your chopsticks, even after you have finished eating.
  • Do not try to lift food that seems too slippery to handle using a chopstick. You can always impale food as a way of tearing it and making it easier to consume, then pick up the smaller pieces using your chopsticks.
  • Whatever you do, do not pass a piece of food to anyone seated at the table using your chopsticks, neither should you receive food by snatching it with your chopsticks. This is because doing this is directly affiliated with a Chinese tradition that involves crossing over cremated bones between loved ones using a set of chopsticks. That said, you are better off placing the food on the receiver’s plate than give them a chance to pick it up using their chopsticks.

5 Important table manners in China

Introduction and seating arrangement

When you arrive at the table, the first thing you need to do is introduce yourself to those seated at the table, or you can allow the host to do the introduction to his guest. Once you have introduced yourself, sit according to the host’s arrangement or wait for the master to show you your seat if your name isn’t written on the cards at the table.

Of all things, the seating arrangement is the most important part of dining etiquette in China. If you find that the guest of honor or the most senior member is not seated, then no one else should sit until they do. If the guest of honor hasn’t eaten either, no one else should. When making toasts at the dinner table, the first toast is made from the seat where the guest of honor sits.

Seating arrangements and Pre-Dining habits

When eating meals in China, you are expected to be as civilized as possible. The best way to be civilized is by paying attention to table manners and practicing good dining habits. Older people ought to serve before the younger ones, and you can only start eating when you hear an elder or the host say, ‘let’s start’, ‘let’s eat’, or ‘you can begin’.


When eating, pick your bowl using your thumb towards the mouth of the bowl, followed by the first finger, middle finger, and the third finger of the bowl supporting the bottom of the bowl and palm empty. At this point, the palm should be empty.

Table manners when taking tea

When someone is pouring tea into your cup, tap the table with you’re index and middle finger about two or three times as a way of extending gratitude to the person serving you. When you do that, you also signal the pourer on when to stop.


You shouldn’t pick up too much food all at once, neither should you talk with food in your mouth. Also, you shouldn’t let food or sauce spill into the table. Also, close your mouth when chewing as a gesture of etiquette and a way to boost your digestion.


Good etiquette and table manners go a long way, not only in China but in every part of the world.

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