Traditional Chinese Family Rules of Etiquette

Three generations of a Chinese family.

Your parents brought you into this world and gave you a life to live in this world. So be nice to them when they are alive. (Image: Monkey Business via Dreamstime)

Since ancient times, China has been known as a “nation of etiquette.” With customary codes and rules, families from ancient times to the present have handed down, via word of mouth, these tried and true family rules of etiquette. These are not only a matter of etiquette, but they also reflect a person’s upbringing, which has been held in high regard.

Family rules not only play a regulatory role but have the added effect of positively guiding family members’ manner of speech and behavior.

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Let’s explore the family rules for etiquette that apply to dining, when going out, visiting others, and interacting with general society.

Rules of etiquette when dining

1. When the family eats together, the elders must sit in the middle, the husband and wife next to each other, and the others in turn, such as favored children may sit next to the elders, but not above them.

2. Younger members of the family, no matter how small or hungry they are, should not start eating before their elders begin to commence eating. It is customary in Chinese families for older people such as grandparents and parents to start eating first followed by their children. This small expression of etiquette when dining together as a family teaches how to show respect for the older generation.

3. Avoid eating noisily with your mouth open; instead, chew your food carefully with a closed mouth. When drinking soup, avoid slurping.

4. Chopsticks must not stand upright in the rice as this represents incense.

5. Refrain from tapping or knocking the pot or bowl with your chopsticks as this symbolizes begging.

6. Both hands should be on the table when eating. One hand holds the bowl and the other chopsticks. Never have one hand hanging down under the table.

7. Once seated at the table, don’t change your seating position and refrain from running around with a bowl in hand as this resembles a beggar.

8. A responsible host/hostess helps the guests with their meal and remembers never to say: “Do you want more food?” In Chinese, this is likened to asking a beggar if he needs food or not.

9. Do not bite your chopsticks when eating.

10. Select food from the serving dish in front of you. If you can’t reach the dish, ask someone to pass the dish to you instead of standing up to serve yourself.

11. When you are a guest in someone’s home, the host must move his chopsticks and commence eating before the guest can start eating.

12. Never pour and fill a teacup to the brim.

13. Avoid pointing the spout of the teapot at people.

Rules of etiquette say that younger members of the family, no matter how small or hungry they are, should not start eating before their elders begin to commence eating.
Younger members of the family, no matter how small or hungry they are, should not start eating before their elders begin to commence eating. (Image: via Pixabay)

Rules of etiquette when going out

1. Always greet elderly people when you go out and equally remember to greet family elders when you return home.

2. It is not required to always wear fancy clothing, but they must always be neat and tidy.

3. Stand up and pay respect to elders when you see them.

4. When someone asks for directions on the road, always give a detailed description. When you are asked for directions, always remember to express your gratitude.

5. Always give way and give up your seat when you meet the elderly, the infirm, women, and children.

Rules of etiquette when visiting

1. When you are knocking at someone’s door, remember to knock at a slow pace. A good rule of thumb is to knock once, and if no one responds knock twice more in an unhurried way.

3. After the host introduces other guests in the room, you must show your respect by either shaking their hands or nodding to acknowledge their presence as a form of respectful greeting.

4. As a guest, if you wish to discuss a private matter with your host, avoid sitting down with other guests around and instead politely ask the host if it’s possible to go elsewhere for a detailed discussion.

5. Refrain from looking through private letters or books in the host’s room.

6. When visiting someone’s home, remember not to sit on their bed.

7. Do not go to a room where nobody is present.

8. Remember to listen carefully and attentively and keep your eyes focused on the person that’s talking.

9. If you see your host yawning or checking the time, you must say goodbye immediately.

Asian daughter standing behind sofa with parents seated to take a family photo.
Always greet elderly people when you go out and equally remember to greet family elders when you return home. (Image: Pongpipat Yatra via Dreamstime)

Rules of etiquette when interacting in society

1. Remember not to talk about people’s shortcomings and avoid showing off your strengths.

2. Avoid telling outsiders about trivial family matters.

3. Remember to think twice before you speak. Be mindful not to say complimentary things to those who are not in a good mood and avoid saying discouraging things to those who are elderly.

4. Remember that friendships can be shallow and any words can leave a deep impression. Even if you are no longer on good terms with your friend, it is important not to speak ill of him behind his back in any public or social event. This will reveal your true character or personality.

5. Don’t make humorous jokes, at the expense of another person, in front of other guests, it may inadvertently hurt that person.

6. When you see disabled people do not make fun of them.

7. Remember not to take advantage of those who sell things in market stalls on the street, and avoid bargaining to gain a small discount from them.

8. Do good to others without asking for a return; however, when you receive a favor from someone, you must repay it.

9. Do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. Remember not to go against your conscience and pass on to others what you know is unrighteous and that you are unwilling to do.


The above are all traditional Chinese family values. In current society, these traditions are getting lost and rejected by many people, especially the younger generation. They tend to look for more trendy and modern ways of living.

How terrible it would be if a family had no values or rules to abide by.

These good family rules of etiquette are like antiques — they are timeless. Modern society may come to see them as more valuable in days to come.

Good family rules of etiquette are fundamental to the prosperity of a family, and these need to be passed down through the generations. They are a cultural legacy that brings families together.

Good family rules of etiquette are what shape a good family ethos and a family ethos is a priceless treasure.

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