Dos & don'ts
Many travelers from abroad are confused and frightened by Chinese customs. This handy reference tool makes it easy for newcomers to China to fit right in.
So come along, my alien friend! Welcome to China!
The order of Chinese names is family name first, then given name. Among some 440 family names, the 100 most common ones account for 90% of the total population.
Brides in China do not adopt their husband's surnames. Among Chinese, a popular way to address each other, regardless of gender, is to add an age-related term of honor before the
family name. These include : lao (honorable old one), xiao (honorable young one) or occasionally da (honorable middle-aged one).
Unlike the Japanese, Chinese do not commonly bow as a form of greeting. Instead, a brief handshake is usual. While meeting elders or senior officials, your handshake should be even more gentle and accompanied by a slight nod. Sometimes, as an
expression of warmth, a Chinese will cover the nomal handshake with his left hand. As a sign of respect, Chinese usually lower their eyes slightly when they meet others.
Moreover, embracing or kissing when greeting or saying good-bye is highly unusual. Generally, Chinese do not show their emotions and feelings in
public. Consequently, it is better not to behave in too carefree a manner in public. Too, it is advisable to be fairly cautious in political discussions.
Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor when it is first presented. Politely refusing two or three times is thought to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting something in haste makes
a person look aggressive and greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver. Traditionally the monetary value of a gift indicated the importance of a relationship, but due to
increasing contact with foreigners in recent years, the symbolic nature of gifts has taken foot.
Present your gifts with both hands. And when wrapping, be aware that the
Chinese ascribe much importance to color. Red is lucky, pink and yellow represent happiness and prosperity; white, grey and black are funeral
colors. The popular items include cigarette lighters, stamps (stamp collecting is a popular hobby), T-shirt, the exotic coins make a good gift to Chinese.
The following gifts should be avoided:
1.White or yellow flowers (especially chrysanthemums), which are used for funerals.
The word for Pear in Chinese sounds the same as separate and is considered bad luck.
3.Red ink for writing cards or letters. It symbolizes the end of a relationship.
of any kind. The word clock in Chinese sound like the expression the end of life.
China is one of those wonderful countries where tipping is not practiced and almost no one asks for tips. The same
thing goes even in Hong Kong and Macao, except in some luxurious hotels.
Traditionally speaking, there are many taboos at Chinese tables, but these days not many people pay attention to them. However, there are a few
things to keep in mind, especially if you are a guest at a private home.
Talking about eating habit, unlike the West, where everyone has their own
plate of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares. If you are being treated by a Chinese host, be prepared for a ton
of food. Chinese are very proud of their culture of cuisine and will do their best to show their hospitality.
And sometimes the host will serve some dishes with his or her own
chopsticks to guests to show his or her hospitality. This is a sign of politeness. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat the whatever-it-is
and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can just say a polite "thank you" and leave the food there. There are some other
rules that are suggested for you follow to make your stay in China happier, though you will be forgiven if you have no idea of what they are.
1. Never stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, lay
them on your dish instead. Otherwise, it is deemed extremely impolite to the host and seniors present. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to
them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like
the shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon a person at the table.
2. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to
set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.
3. Don't tap on your bowl with your chopsticks, since that will be deemed insult to the host or the chef. Beggars tap on their bowls, and also, when
the food is coming too slow in a restaurant, people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone's home, it is like insulting the host or the cook.
4. Never try to turn a fish over and debone it yourself, since the separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of the flesh will usually
be performed by the host or a waiter. Superstitious people deem bad luck will ensue and a fishing boat will capsize if you do so. This is especially
true to southerners in China (to be specific, such as Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian provinces, etc.), since, traditionally, southerners are the fishing population.
It's commonly known that the Chinese invented chopsticks (or kuaizi in Chinese) as a set of instruments to be used when eating but the reason
behind that is not commonly known. Actually, the Chinese were taught to use chopsticks long before spoons and forks were invented in Europe (the
knife is older, not as an instrument for dining but as weapon). Chopsticks were strongly advocated by the great Chinese philosopher Confucius
(551-479BC). Chinese people, under the cultivation of Confucianism, consider the knife and fork bearing sort of violence, like cold weapons.
However, chopsticks reflect gentleness and benevolence, the main moral teaching of Confucianism. Therefore, instruments used for killing must be
banned from the dining table, and that is why Chinese food is always chopped into bite size before it reaches the table.
Eating Chinese food would not be as enjoyable if the wrong utensils were used. Using two slim and slippery sticks to pick up grains of rice and little
pieces of meat and vegetables is actually not a difficult task to accomplish. In fact, there are foreigners who are as competent in using the chopsticks as the Chinese.
The truth of using chopsticks is holding one chopstick in place while pivoting the other one to pick up a morsel. How to position the chopsticks is the course you have to learn. First, place the first chopstick so that
thicker part rests at the base of your thumb and the thinner part rests on the lower side of your middle fingertip. Then, bring your thumb forward so that the stick will be firmly trapped in
place. At least two or three inches of chopstick of the thinner end should extend beyond your fingertip. Next, position the other chopstick so that it is held against the side of your index
finger and by the end of your thumb. Check whether the ends of the chopsticks are even. If not, then tap the thinner parts on the plate to make them even.
When dining with Chinese friends or business partners, it is always better for foreigners to try learning how to maneuver the chopsticks. You should
only ask for a fork and spoon if all else fails. Using chopsticks to eat rice is a problem to most foreigners. Generally the tip to eat rice is to bring one's
rice bowl close to one's mouth and quickly scoop the rice into it with one's chopsticks. Since this is difficult for foreigners, and so simply lifting
portions of rice to the mouth from the bowl held in the other hand is perfectly acceptable.
There are superstitions associated with chopsticks too. If you find an
uneven pair at your table setting, it means you are going to miss a boat, plane or train. Dropping chopsticks will inevitably bring bad luck. Crossed
chopsticks are, however, permissible in a dim sum restaurant. The waiter will cross them to show that your bill has been settled, or you can do the
same to show the waiter that you have finished and are ready to pay the bill.
China has many distinct cuisines that are regionally based
As an important component of Chinese culinary art, Shandong cuisine, also
known as Lu Cai for short, boasts a long history and far-reaching impact. Shandong cuisine can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period
(770-221BC). It was quickly developed in the South and North Dynasty (960-1279), and was recognized as an important style of cooking in the
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Shangdong cuisine is representative of northern China's cooking and its technique has been widely absorbed in northeast China.
Shandong is a large peninsula surrounded by the sea, with the Yellow River meandering through the center. As a result, seafood is a major component
of Shandong cuisine. Shandong's most famous dish is the "sweet and sour carp". A truly authentic "sweet and sour carp" must come from the Yellow River.
Shangdong cuisine is famous for its wide selection of material and use of different cooking methods. The raw materials are mainly domestic animals
and birds, seafood and vegetables. The masterly cooking techniques include Bao (quick frying), Liu (quick frying with corn flour), Pa (stewing),
roasting, boiling, using sugar to make fruit, crystallizing with honey.
Condiments such as sauce paste, fistulous onion and garlic are freely
used, so Shangdong dishes usually taste pungent. Soups are given much emphasis in Shangdong dishes. Clear soup (or thin soup) features clear
and fresh while milk soup (or creamy soup) looks thick and tastes strong, both of which are often choicely made to add freshness to the dishes. The
dishes are mainly clear, fresh and fatty, perfect with Shandong's own famous beer, Qingdao Beer.
In addition to sweet and sour carp, typical courses in Shandong cuisine
include braised abalone with shells, fried sea cucumber with fistulous onion, fragrant calamus in milk soup, quick-fried double fats (a very
traditional Shandong dish consisting of pork tripe and chicken gizzards), and Dezhou stewed chicken. Dezhou stewed chicken is known throughout
the country; the chicken is so well cooked that the meat easily separates from the bone although the shape of the chicken is preserved.
Jiangsu cuisine, also known as Su Cai for short, is one of the major components of Chinese cuisine, and consists of the styles of Yangzhou,
Nanjing, Suzhou and Zhenjiang dishes. It is very famous in the whole world for its distinctive style and taste. It is especially popular in the lower reach of the Yangtze River.
Known as "a land of fish and rice" in China, Jiangsu Province has a rich variety of ingredients available for cooking. Jiangsu cuisine has the
characteristics of strictly selected ingredients, exquisite workmanship, elegant shape, and rich culture trait. The typical raw materials are fresh
and live aquatic products. It highlights the freshness of ingredients. Other cooking ingredients are often carefully selected tea leaves, bamboo
shoots, mushrooms, pears, and dates. Its carving techniques are delicate, of which the melon carving technique is especially well known. Due to
using the methods of stewing, braising, quick-frying, warming-up, stir-frying, wine sauce pickling and adding some sugar as condiments, Jiangsu dishes taste fresh, light and mellow.
Jiangsu dishes can be classified into that of Suzhou-Wuxi style and Zhenjiang-Yangzhou style. The feature of Suzhou-style dishes is their
natural flavor in original stock and a mixture of salty and sweet taste. The characteristics of Zhenjiang-Yangzhou style food are best described by
the saying that "the soup is so clear that you can see the bottom of the bowl and the sauce is so thick that it turns creamy white".
Typical courses of Jiangsu cuisine are Jinling salted dried duck (Nanjing's most famous dish), crystal meat (pork heals in a bright, brown sauce),
clear crab shell meatballs (pork meatballs in crab shell powder, fatty, yet fresh), Yangzhou steamed Jerky strips (dried tofu, chicken, ham and pea
leaves), triple combo duck, dried duck, and Farewell My Concubine (soft-shelled turtle stewed with many other ingredients such as chicken, mushrooms and wine).
Guangdong cuisine, known as Cantonese cuisine in the West, originates from Guangdong, the southernmost province in China. It is developed in
Guangzhou, Huizhou and Chaozhou of Guangdong Province and Hainan Island. The recipes of Cantonese dishes appeared in the literature of the
Han (206BC-220AD), Wei, South and North dynasties (220-587), became famous both at home and abroad at the beginning of the 20th century.
The majority of overseas Chinese, especially in Southeast Asia, are from Guangdong (Canton), so Cantonese food is perhaps the most widely available Chinese regional cuisine outside China.
Long, warm, wet days in Guangdong throughout the year create the perfect environment for cultivating almost everything. Cantonese are
known to have an adventurous palate, able to eat many different kinds of meats and vegetables and other exotic ingredients. In fact, it seems that,
to the Cantonese, almost everything that walks, crawls, flies, or swims is edible. A humorous saying goes like this, "Cantonese will eat anything that
flies except airplanes, anything that moves on the ground except trains, and anything that moves in the water except boats." This statement is far
from the truth, but Cantonese food is surely one of the most diverse and richest cuisines in China. It usually has fowl and other meats that produce
its unique dishes. Various unusual materials are used for their dishes, including snakes, cats and pangolins. Cooked snake is considered a delicacy in Guangdong.
As the climate of Guangdong is hot, Cantonese food does not use much spice, bringing out the natural flavor of the vegetables and meats. The dishes are fresh, crisp, tender, and lightly seasoned.
Guangdong cuisine has absorbed the cooking skills of the West as well as that of other Chinese regions, to develop its own unique methods. The
basic cooking techniques include roasting, stir-frying, sauteing, deep-frying, braising, stewing and steaming. Steaming and stir-frying are
most commonly used to preserve the ingredients' natural flavors. Guangdong chefs also pay much attention to the artistic presentation of their dishes.
The most famous snake dish in Guangdong is the "dragon and tiger locked in battle", in which cobra, leopard cat, and over twenty spices are used.
"Roasted snake with chrysanthemum blooms" is provided in autumn; the dish is creamy in color and garnished with beautiful petals of
chrysanthemum, mushrooms, and various flavorings. Other delicacies in Guangdong cuisine are braised whole abalone with vegetable and delicious
sauce, roasted suckling pig, duck web in oyster sauce, shark's fin with brown sauce, sauteed sliced beef with vegetable, fish belly in clear soup,
fried shrimp, drunken shrimp (shrimp that are still alive, yet drowning in liquor), bird's nest with wax gourd, Dongjiang salted chicken and braised chicken feed with wild herbs.
In addition, Guangdong is also well known for its dim sum, snack-like delicacies of savory and sweet buns, steamed meat with vegetable and
pastries. Dim sum is usually served for breakfast and lunch.
Anhui cuisine (Hui Cai for short), one of the eight most famous cuisines in
China, features the local culinary arts of Huizhou. It comprises the specialties of South Anhui, Yanjiang and Huai Bei. The highly distinctive
characteristic of Anhui cuisine lies not only in the elaborate choices of cooking materials but also in the strict control of cooking process.
Most ingredients in Anhui cuisine, such as pangolin, stone frog, mushroom, bayberry, tea leaves, bamboo shoot, dates, games, etc., are from
mountain area. Huangshan Mountain has abundant products for dish cooking. Huangshan Chukka has tender flesh and a sweet taste. It can be
boiled in clear soup or braised in soy sauce. The dishes help relieve internal fever and build up vital energy. The white and tender bamboo shoots
produced on Huangshan Mountain can be made into very delicious food. Xianggu, a kind of top-grade mushroom grows on old trees, is also very tasty.
Anhui cuisine chefs pay more attention to the taste, color of dishes and the temperature to cook them, and are good at braising and stewing. They
are experts especially in cooking delicacies from mountains and sea. Anhui dishes preserve most of the original taste and nutrition of the materials.
Generally the food here is slightly spicy and salty. Some master dishes usually stewed in brown sauce with stress on heavy oil and sauce. Ham is
often added to improve the taste and sugar candy added to gain freshness.
High up on the menu are stewed soft shell turtle with ham, Huangshan
braised pigeon, steamed stone frog, steamed rock partridge, stewed fish belly in brown sauce, bamboo shoots cooked with sausage and dried mushroom, etc.
1. Stewed soft shell turtle with ham
One whole soft shell turtle, pork, ham, bamboo shoots, a clove of garlic, shallot, ginger, soy sauce, salt, rice wine, black pepper, lard are all stewed
together in a pot on charcoal fire. The dish is not greasy and can lead diners to endless aftertastes.
2. Steamed stone frog
Inhabited in caves, stone frog is a special product in Huangshan Mountain. It weights 250 grams or so, whose belly is white and back black with
stripe. Stone frog is rich in protein, calcium and so on. It has the functions of clearing heat, improving vision and nutrition. It is one of the best exotic dishes from mountains.
3. Bamboo shoots cooked with sausage and dried mushroom
It is one traditional flavor in Huizhou mountainous area. Cooked with
sausage and dried mushrooms, the bamboo shoots are more fragrant. It is delicious, and noted for its good color, juicy meat and thick soup.
4. Li Hongzhang Hotchpotch
Li Hongzhang hotchpotch is a popular dish named after one of Anhui's famous personages. Li Hongzhang was a top official of the late Qing
Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). When he was in office, he paid a visit to the US and hosted a banquet for all his American friends. As the specially
prepared dishes continued to flow, the chefs, with limited resources, began to fret. Upon Li Hongzhang's order, the remaining kitchen
ingredients were thrown together into an impromptu stew, containing sea cucumber, squid, tofu, ham, mushroom, chicken meat and other less
identifiable food materials! Thus appetites were quenched and a dish was created.
Of the eight major schools of China's culinary art, Sichuan cuisine is
perhaps the most popular. Originating in Sichuan Province of western China, Sichuan cuisine, known as Chuan Cai in Chinese, enjoys an
international reputation for being spicy and flavorful. Yet the highly distinctive pungency is not its only characteristic. In fact, Sichuan cuisine
boasts a variety of flavors and different methods of cooking, featuring the taste of hot, sweet, sour, salty, or tongue-numbing.
The origin of Sichuan cuisine can be traced back to the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD), its recognition as a distinct regional system
took place in the Han dynasties (206BC-220AD). As a unique style of food, Sichuan cuisine was famous more than 800 years ago during the Southern
Song Dynasty (1127-1279) when Sichuan restaurants were opened in Lin'an, now called Hangzhou, the capital. The hot pepper was introduced
into China from South America around the end of the 17th century. Once it came to Sichuan, it became a favored food flavoring. In the late Qing
Dynasty around 19th century, Sichuan cuisine became a unique local flavor, enjoying the same reputation with Shandong, Guangdong (Canton) and Huaiyang cuisines.
Sichuan has high humidity and many rainy or overcast days. Hot pepper helps reduce internal dampness, so it was used frequently in dishes, and
hot dishes became the norm in Sichuan cuisine. The region's warm, humid climate also necessitates sophisticated food-preservation techniques which include picking, salting, drying and smoking.
Sichuan has been known as the land of plenty since ancient times. It produces abundant domestic animals, poultry, and freshwater fish and
crayfish. Sichuan cuisine is well known for cooking fish. The raw materials are delicacies from land and river, edible wild herbs, and the meat of
domestic animals and birds. Beef is more common in Sichuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the widespread use of oxen in
the region. Stir-fried beef is often cooked until chewy, while steamed beef is sometimes coated with rice flour to produce rich gravy.
Sichuan dishes consist of Chengdu, Chongqing and vegetarian dishes. Masterly used cooking techniques are sauteing, stir-frying without
stewing, dry-braising, Pao (soaking in water) and Hui (frying then braising with corn flour sauce). Sichuan cuisine is famous for its distinct and
various flavors, the most outstanding ones are fish flavors, pepper powder boiled in oil, strange flavor and sticky-hot.
Statistics show that the number of Sichuan dishes has surpassed 5,000.
Dishes typical of Sichuan are twice cooked pork, spicy diced chicken with peanuts, dry-fried shark fin, and fish-flavored pork shred. One of the
popular dishes is Pockmarked Woman's bean curd (or Mapo Doufu in Chinese) which was invented by a Chengdu chef's pockmarked wife
decades ago in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The cubed bean curd is cooked over a low flame in a sauce which contains ground beef, chili, and
pepper. When served, the bean curd is tender, spicy, and appetizing. Although many Sichuan dishes live up to their spicy reputation, often
ignored are the large percentage of recipes that use little or no spice at all, including recipes such as "tea smoked duck".
Also known as Xiang Cai, Hunan cuisine has already developed into a famous culinary school in China. Hunan dishes consist of local dishes from
the Xiangjiang River area, Dongting Lake area and Western Hunan mountain area. Hunan's culinary specialties are akin to those of the
chili-rich Sichuan dishes. It is also characterized by thick and pungent flavor. Chili, pepper and shallot are usually necessaries in this division.
However, Chili, peppers, garlic (suan) and an unusual sauce, called "strange-flavor" sauce (guai wei jiang) on some menus, enliven many
dishes, with a somewhat drier intensity than that of their Sichuan counterparts. Sweetness, too, is a Hunan culinary passion, and honey
sauces are favored in desserts such as water chestnut or cassia flower cakes.
Hunan is known as "the land of fish and rice". Like the west in latitude, it
has the added bonus of lowlands for rice cultivation and a rich ocean's edge for fish.
Hunan food is characterized by its hot and sour flavor, fresh aroma,
greasiness, deep color, and the prominence of the main flavor in the dishes. Hunan food is hot because the climate is very humid, which makes
it difficult for human body to eliminate moisture. The local people eat hot peppers to help remove dampness and cold. The main cooking methods for
Hunan dishes are braising, double-boiling, steaming and stewing. It is also renowned for its frequent use of preserved meat in cooking.
Rice is the staple in Hunan, but northern-style side dishes and fillers are also popular: bean curd "bread" rolls or dumplings and savory buns. They
are further signs that Hunan is one of China's culinary heartland, incorporating many flavors and regional influences.
Typical courses include: Dong'an chick; peppery and hot chick, stir-fried
tripe slivers, tripe in duck's web soup, lotus seed with rock candy, Xiaoxiang turtle, steamed pickled meat, and hot and spicy frog leg.
Information courtesy www. Chinadaily.com.cn