The seating arrangement is probably the most important part of Chinese dining etiquette. Dining etiquette in ancient times was enacted according to a four-tier social strata: 1. the imperial court, 2. local authorities, 3. trade associations and 4. farmers and workers. The respect structure in modern dining etiquette has been simplified to: 1. master of the banquet and 2. guests.
Seat of Honor
The seat of honor, reserved for the master of the banquet or the guest with highest status, is the one in the center facing east or facing the entrance. Those of higher position sit closer to the master of the banquet. The guests of lowest position sit furthest from the seat of honor. When a family holds a banquet, the seat of honor is for the guest with the highest status and the head of the house takes the least prominent seat.
If round tables are used, the seat facing the entrance is the seat of honor. The seats on the left hand side of the seat of honor are second, fourth, sixth, etc in importance, while those on the right are third, fifth, seventh and so on in importance, until they join together.
In ancient times there was a piece of furniture known as an Eight Immortals table, a big square table with benches for two people on each side. If there was a seat facing the entrance, then the right hand seat when facing the entrance was for the guest of honor. If there was no seat facing the entrance door (presumably if the meal was outside or there were two or more doors of equal importance), then the right hand seat when facing east was the seat of honor. The seats on the left hand side of the seat of honor were, in order of importance, second, fourth, sixth and eighth and those on the right were third, fifth and seventh.
In Grand Banquet
In a grand banquet of many tables, the table of honor is the one furthest from the entrance (or facing east in the event of no clear main entrance). The tables on the left hand side of the tables of honor are, in order of importance, second, fourth, sixth and so on, and those on the right are third, fifth and seventh. Guests are seated according to their status and degree of relationship to the master of the banquet.
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