Understand Chinese Gestures and Avoid Embarassing Mix-ups

A basic understanding of Chinese gestures and body language is helpful...and absolutely essential:

  • if you will visit China
  • if you don't speak much Chinese
  • or if their English is rusty

Here are some basics to know before you visit China:

The Alluring "git over here" gesture

Yes, the Chinese gesture for "come over here".

And the first time my Chinese girlfriend made this gesture to me, I didn't get it! Where I come from, that means ska-doodle and make yourself scarce. And so I stood there with a confused look on my face. Every fiber of my being was telling me to follow her, so why was she motioning for me to go away?

Commonly people will hold their hand out, palm-side down, and wave their fingers rapidly...the more rapid, the more urgent the request.

So follow your heart when you see a pretty Chinese girl doing that.

You also can use it to hail a cab. Or even a bus in the rural areas where there are no official bus stops.

What’s the point?

Very rarely will people point with a single index finger. Usually you will "point" at things using all four fingers.

It's not the end of the world if you point with one finger. People get your meaning and are not offended. It's just more polite, and something to keep in mind.

Hugging Someone New

Remember

One size does not fit all. There are exceptions to every rule. One of my Chinese friends loves to hug and kiss all her friends on the cheek European style at every meeting. She is a much more worldly woman and her husband is not Chinese.

So as with all advice, and etiquette books for that matter, make exceptions as you see fit.

The whole point of etiquette is to help other people feel more comfortable around you.

When you meet and greet new people - even family - you rarely, rarely hug and kiss. Like almost never.

A normal greeting includes a handshake, perhaps accompanied by a slight bow (not like Japan, where there is a big bow) or nod of the head.

Two-Handed Pass and Recieve

When you meet someone new, they may give you a business card - with both hands. Make sure you accept the card with both hands.

It's easy - just mimic what the other person does.

Examine the card closely, as this card is considered a representation of the person. Do not immediately jam it into an overstuffed wallet without even glancing at it - your new acquaintance will lose face.

Ideally you will have a business card to exchange in return. If not, you can either lose a bit of “face” or you can get hundreds of them made for next-to-nothing at a local Chinese print shop.

If you want to be very super-polite, use that same “two-handed give” whenever you give your credit card, a gift, even money. You can even hold your teacup with two hands while someone else fills it with tea to show extra appreciation.

Visit this page for some of the finer points of Chinese business cards.

Showing your love

Public demonstrations of love are less common in China. Often young couples will seek out the veil of darkness in a nearby city park or University campus and “pa toe” (which means love talking).

And if you see two people in China of the same-sex holding hands or walking arm-in-arm, they're just friends.

V or double V

When getting your photo taken - you often make the V sign with your index and middle fingers. Sometimes with both hands if you're really happy!

Hide your tongue

Girl covering her mouth Many people in China consider it rude to show the inside of their mouth. That's why so many Chinese girls cover their mouth in a cute way while they laugh.

If you want to be polite, cover your mouth from view while you:

  • yawn
  • cough
  • laugh
  • spit
  • use a toothpick

I've seen some Chinese girls get offended about this - especially the toothpick one.


Here are more Chinese gestures you might want to know. These hand signals will help you with counting in Chinese - learn these and you can haggle and bargain in the streets with the best of them.

Chinese symbol for love

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