A trip to China can be exciting and eye-opening. The culture, manners, and social ideas might be quite different from your own. If you are interested in China, or are planning your China trip, take note of the following 10 things not to do in China.
1. Don't Talk about Uncomfortable or Politically Sensitive Topics
Unless you have a good reason, don't talk about death or mention that someone has died. Death is quite a serious and ominous topic to Chinese people. The color white represents death, so avoid giving white things as gifts or wrapping gifts in white paper or ribbons.
Other things you shouldn't talk about are political and religious issues, such as territorial/economic conflicts, religious policies, or state leaders. Chinese people are often not comfortable discussing topics with foreigners that may cause embarrassment to China, as they see the issues from a different perspective. Avoiding sensitive topics like this will keep your conversation positive and friendly.
However, not all political topics need to be avoided. Some positive topics, such as the reform and opening up policy, the infrastructure, and the Belt and Road Initiative, are welcomed.
Learn how to communicate with Chinese people.
2. Don't Disrespect the Customs of Minority Groups and Temples
There are 55 minority groups in China, and each has their own traditions and customs. Objects related to worship and ancestors are generally not allowed to be touched. It is good to keep your guide’s instructions in mind or ask for permission before you touch something.
There are many Buddhist and Taoist temples in China. If you have the chance to visit them, you should be respectful, even if you believe in another religion or are an atheist. It is important to remove your hat, sunglasses, or sometimes your shoes before entering many temples, and it is not a good move to point at the statues with your finger or to step on the doorsill.
Generally, you will not be punished or fined if you don’t show any respect, but it is still suggested that you be respectful. If you are traveling with China Highlights, your itinerary can be customized. You can simply remove the attractions you may not like from your tour.
See more on How to Visit a Temple in China and How to Visit a Chinese Family (Properly).
3. Don't Make Close Personal Contact, Such as a Hug or Kiss
The Chinese are less affectionate than people from other cultures, and hug and kiss much less. When you meet a stranger, it might be best simply to greet him/her verbally instead of trying to shake hands as this feels unnatural to most Chinese people. When greeting someone, a slight nod is fine. Don't bow and never kiss or hug when saying hello or goodbye, as personal contact is not that common.
In many areas of the country, due to traditions and religion, the head is considered more sacred than other parts of the body. A touch could be considered disrespectful, so be aware of this and don't pat people on their heads or play with their hair unless you are sure of your standing with them.
However, you'll find that having personal space in public (especially on public transport) is quite uncommon — Chinese people in crowds may be pushy and crush up against others for a place in line or a seat.
Both notions may go against your beliefs and what you are used to at home, where affection is much more readily displayed but personal space is more valued. Learning the nuances of behavior takes time.
4. Don't Expect Interpersonal Communications to Be the Same
If your trip to China includes meeting individuals, either for business or personal reasons, you might consider traveling with gifts you can hand out. Appropriate gifts at appropriate times may be useful in building relationships, and they make people happy.
However, some items are considered unlucky, or to resemble death or separation; for example, sharp objects, clocks, pears, and shoes. You’d better not give them as gifts. Learn more about the good gifts and bad gifts in China. Likewise, a gift might not be opened in your presence since it may lead to loss of face to open a gift in front of the giver.
In China, restaurant bills are never shared. They are not used to “going Dutch”. The person hosting might be embarrassed if you chip in. However, if you have asked people out yourself, it is expected that you pay for the entire bill.
5. Don't Forget Your Manners When Using Chopsticks
Don't ignore chopstick etiquette if you are about to use a pair. Chinese people have a lot of ideas about this — chopsticks are for eating only. They are not to be used for gesturing to items or individuals. They are also not to be used as drumsticks or as playthings at someone's table.
Don't place chopsticks inside the bowl when you’ve finished eating or stick them in your hair. Instead, place the chopsticks on top of the bowl. Definitely don't stand your chopsticks straight up in your food, as it looks like incense for dead people.
Read everything you should know about chopsticks.
6. Don't Tip in Places That Also Serve Chinese People
Tipping is a practice that is not observed in China. Taxi drivers, restaurant staff, and bellmen do not expect to be tipped and could be confused and try to give your money back. Not tipping avoids these awkward situations, even though it may take some getting used to if you come from a society where tipping is important.
The sole exception to this practice is a tour that is catered to foreign visitors. The individuals on these tours often depend upon tips for their income. Therefore, it is wise to budget for tipping guides and drivers as one would in most other places in the world.
See how to tip in China.
7. Don’t Rely on Your Credit Card
In China, your credit card may not be as useful as it is in your country. If you show your card in a shop or restaurant, the staff may get confused because Chinese people rarely use them.
People in China like to make mobile payments, such as WeChat payments. If you’d like to give this a try, install WeChat and activate a Swapsy account before leaving home. WeChat is the most popular chatting and payment app in China. It includes a multiple language interface and works well in your country.
However, you can bond your credit card to your WeChat account, but the money transferred into it must come from a Chinese bank account. This is where Swapsy comes in. You can use it to trade currency from PayPal/Zelle to WeChat, and vice versa.
Alternatively, simply carry enough cash with you.
8. Don’t Forget to Take Your Own Toilet Paper
Star-rated hotels in China provide toilet paper but restrooms in other places may not. In attractions, supermarkets, restaurants, or on a train, you may find tissue dispensers but nothing inside them.
Although the service level of many restrooms is progressing, time is still needed to solve this problem. Therefore, take your own, or buy some before going anywhere.
Another thing you need to be aware of is not to flush toilet paper in public restrooms. If you do so in some long-neglected restrooms, it may lead to serious problems. Just put it in the trash bin.
Learn more about Chinese restrooms.
9. Don't Use Unlicensed Transportation Services
When you leave a railway station or airport, you may see some people trying to persuade passengers to get into their cars and drive them somewhere. It is not recommended that you try such services as the language can be a problem and they are mostly unlicensed providers. These should only be used by locals.
More reliable choices are using public buses or taxis operated by legal companies.
Public buses pick-up and drop-off passengers at fixed stops where you can wait for a bus and check the route. There must also be clear signs on the bus indicating its number.
A legal taxi must have the company name on the doors and a lamp on top of the car indicating it is a taxi. The driver will use a meter to calculate the fee rather than just telling you how much you should pay.
Read about how to take a taxi in China.
10. Don't Travel on Your Own Unless You Are Skilled in Chinese
Besides the transportation problems mentioned above, there are more caused by the language barrier.
Most Chinese people cannot speak English very well, and this may be very different from other countries you have visited. If you ask local people for help, you may find that they are willing to help you but cannot understand your words or give you the right advice.
The airport, railway station, and your hotel offer English services, but other places may not.
If you want to visit some attractions that are a long way from the downtown area but are not on a public bus route, you need to book a shuttle bus ticket at the bus station, get off at the right stop, and find the right way to enter the area, while trying your best to avoid the crowds. Nothing is easy if you are not skilled in Chinese.
Let Us Help You Have a Wonderful Trip
Our experienced tour guides can teach you about relevant points of Chinese etiquette and culture, and help you have a smooth and enjoyable trip. Consider touring with our guides, especially if this is your first trip and if you don’t speak Chinese.
They'll help you enjoy yourself, and you'll learn more about China and the Chinese people than you might be able to learn on your own. This is valuable knowledge that you can apply on your next trip to China as a tourist or perhaps for serious business or employment.
Recommended China Tour Packages
Our top first-timer’s tour is our 8-Day Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai Tour. This tour is tailored to introduce people to China. It is modifiable to suit your preferences.
You can also create your own dream trip and visit the places you want to, or see more of our China tours.