4 Things You Need to Know About Chinese Hospitality
“How happy to have friends from far away!” said Confucius regarding the hospitality of the Chinese.
In fact, even in 2017, the Chinese attitude towards the importance of hosting and treating guests well remains just as entrenched in the culture as ever. So, exactly how much do you know about the rules of Chinese Hospitality? Let’s start with 3 basic questions.
Have you ever hosted Chinese guests before?
Have you bought gifts for a Chinese family?
Do you know the correct Chinese guest etiquette when you’re the guest?
Well, there’s no time to lose — let’s dive right in! Here are 4 things you need to know about Chinese hospitality.
When you make a real Chinese friend, you will find out that the friendship is worth its weight in gold. In fact, Chinese people will often refer to someone they’ve just met as their “friend.” Chinese people are quick to ask personal and private questions (even during the first encounter!) about things like age, marital status, salary, and religion. Chinese people consider these to be prerequisites for a deep friendship. One shouldn’t feel taken aback when being asked these kinds of personal questions. Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with these questions, you can always decline and they will knowingly understand.
One of the best examples of Chinese hospitality can be seen at banquets. During a banquet, Chinese hosts like to serve guests with the best foods they have. When they host a banquet or invite their guests, the host usually prepares seven or eight dishes per guest (way more than normal) to make sure that many of the dishes remain unfinished. In fact, if all the food is completely eaten, the host may order more food just to save face!
Why this abundance of food? Why have more dishes than guests can finish?
First, Chinese people are incredibly hospitable, at the most rudimentary level. Chinese hosts would prefer to having leftovers instead of seeing their guests finish all the food. If the guests finishes all the food on the table, the host will consider it a sign that they didn’t treat their guest well enough!
Second, Chinese people need to save “face.” Chinese people don’t want others to think that they are poor and can’t afford to feed everyone. Even in the old days when Chinese people were poor, the hosts would always treat the guests as if they were starving and prepare abundant quantities of food.
A well-prepared meal still represents the prestige of the family, to show others that they are both generous and well-off. Even though China has experienced astonishing growth in the last few decades, the tradition still continues on.
Gift giving varies from culture to culture, person to person. The Chinese, in general, prefer to give and receive very practical gifts – not just commemorative ones. Perhaps due to a history of population pressure and resource scarcity, Chinese people mostly focus on practicality when picking out a gift. Common gifts for Chinese newlyweds are bed sheets, tablecloths, and cutlery. Most Chinese ceremonies with gift giving generally gives red envelopes with money placed inside.
When picking out gifts, Chinese people also want to choose things that are lucky and bring the promise of good fortune. In Chinese tradition, certain numbers are believed to be lucky or unlucky. Chinese people prefer even numbers (except for the number four) like two (二, èr), six (六, liù), and eight (八bā) because of how they sound. In Chinese, six (六, liù) often relates to flow (流, liú), which means good fortune especially for business. Eight (八, bā) carries the meaning of fortune. In contrast, the number four in Chinese (四, sì) sounds a lot like death (死, sǐ) and symbolizes bad luck.
The Chinese idiom 礼尚往来 (lǐ shàng wǎng lái) states that “Propriety Suggests Reciprocity.” In the West, patrons generally do not emphasize the value of gifts, but more so the meaning behind the gift. In China, however, either the host or the guest or both may give gifts, and the value of the gift is often governed by the price. Chinese people will even go out of their way to let others know when it is a valuable gift.
On the contrary, the way that Chinese people give and receive gifts is different from people in the West. Most Chinese people don’t open their gifts on the spot unless the host asks them to do so because they want to express their feeling towards the importance of friendship, not the materialism of it. If you open the gifts in front of the host, you may be seen as a person who places more value on the gifts, not on the relationship.
It is customary for Chinese people to not only see their guests out the door, but hang around until their car, train, or even elevator arrives. This may be seem awkward for some Western visitors, who usually just say “goodbye” and leave after a meeting. Nevertheless, Chinese people find this to be an integral duty of the host.
There is an old Chinese phrase from a Sui Dynasty poem, Farewell that translates to “Break the willow tree branches and ask their loved ones when will they return.”
The willow is one the oldest native Chinese trees and holds two separate symbolic meanings. First, willow tree (柳树, liǔshù) is pronounced similar to the word for “stay” (留，Liú）in Chinese. This gives the meaning of hoping the guest can stay for a little while longer. Secondly, the willow tree is known for it’s strong vitality. It is very common to see the willow tree located near the roads or riversides. When Chinese people say farewell to their families and friends, they would break branches of the willow tree and give it to them in a symbolic gesture hoping they will stay strong and one day return.
Good Luck with Your Next Hosting！
We truly hope you are currently enjoying the fruits of Chinese friendship or will someday soon! Keep these 4 tips in mind as you navigate your friendships in the future. Maybe even consider incorporating some habits into your life.
Until next time! See you again! 再见。