Here are some of the craziest Chinese customs you simply must know.
The Chinese are an interesting bunch, and they have some customs which are insanely quirky.
This is one of the reasons I love visiting China – it is so different to the West and everything we’re used to.
Whether you’re heading to China for a vacation, or you’re just learning about China from home, this article will reveal the most surprising and shocking Chinese customs.
And, hopefully it’ll help you understand Chinese people a little bit more.
1. Burping, slurping and spitting are the norm
The locals can be quite expressive when they go about their daily lives.
In China, burping after a meal can be a compliment to the chef. Similarly, slurping your noodles or soup is a perfectly fine way to dine.
And, some men like to loudly spit, to help clear their throat or ‘just because’.
2. Prostitution is banned but still exists
The world’s oldest profession is still around in China, even though it’s illegal.
Prostitution in China is a flourishing, underground trade in most cities across the country.
Many brothels are brazenly located in busy streets in the city centers, but to foreigners, they can look exactly like any other innocuous shop.
And, apps like WeChat make it easy for sex workers to get in contact with potential customers.
There are other things banned in China that don’t deter the locals either, such as accessing pornography.
3. Young people are addicted to plastic surgery
Countless young people in China are undergoing extreme medical procedures to radically change their appearance.
The plastic surgery boom is being influenced by beauty apps as well as social media influencers who receive free surgeries in exchange for promotion.
One such app, So-Young, has amassed over 10 million monthly users. The app’s ‘magic mirror’ assesses your face, gives you a score, and then tells you what surgeries are needed to improve that score.
You can then get connected to clinics and even apply for beauty loans.
The plastic surgery addiction is one of the newer, darker Chinese customs.
4. Weird foods are thoroughly enjoyed
This one is subjective. Food that you might find weird is totally delicious to someone else.
But it needs to be said that the Chinese eat some pretty gnarly foods.
From crunchy chicken feet to stinky tofu, your tastebuds and senses will be pushed to the limit when you visit China.
I remember almost burning my tongue on a vacuum-sealed hot chili quail, which I bought from a train station.
You can read more about the Chinese food that Westerners find disgusting if you’re interested.
5. Napping is a national pastime
The working week is long in China, so it’s perfectly fine to have a siesta in the middle of the day.
Depending on the employer, a worker may have up to two hours for their lunch break. This is why lots of people have foldable cots at work, complete with a blanket and pillow.
Even expat Olivia Seaton-Hill enjoys napping in Shenzhen.
You’ll also find workers napping in customer-facing areas, like shops and restaurants. There’s no shame.
6. Queue jumping is acceptable
In the eyes of foreigners, this is one of the most irksome Chinese customs.
Orderly queues do not exist in China. If you need to get to the front of the line fast, you simply push your way through.
But even if you’re not pressed for time, you can try cutting in line. It’s just what you do in China.
Occasionally, you’ll see someone being told off for cutting in line, and all hell breaks loose. But the Chinese are very adept at doing it, so by the time you’ve noticed, the queue jumper is already up the front getting served.
In my experience, Chinese airports are the exception to this rule. People generally line up when checking in and going through customs (probably because they’re forced to!).
7. Payment apps are used for everything
Everything is being digitized in China, and this includes how you pay for things.
The locals use WeChat Pay and Alipay for everything from buying train tickets and takeaway food to making donations to homeless people.
China is quickly turning into a cashless society.
Travelling soon? Check out these helpful China travel apps.
8. There are rules around using chopsticks
Rules in China are more like malleable guidelines, which can be bent and twisted.
But when it comes to the quintessential Chinese utensil – the chopstick – there are some hard and fast rules.
For instance, you shouldn’t point them at people, you shouldn’t suck on them, and you shouldn’t stand them up in your food (this looks like incense sticks commemorating the dead).
If you’re after a deep dive into Chinese culture, check out this page.
9. There’s a public holiday to commemorate the dead
Speaking of commemorating the dead, did you know there’s a public holiday in China to do just that?
In early April each year, most Chinese people get the day off work to pay their respect to deceased family members.
It’s called Qingming Festival and it’s a Chinese folk tradition that dates back centuries.
People visit their ancestors’ graves and bring food, burn incense, as well as sweep away dirt and remove weeds.
That’s why the holiday is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day.
10. Women are pressured to marry by age 27
Chinese women are expected to find a guy and get married by their late 20s. Any later, and they’re referred to as ‘leftovers’.
Some parents will go to great lengths to find their daughter a man, like advertising their offspring at the local marriage park.
This is a public space where desperate parents have photos of their kids alongside essential statistics like age, height and education level.
Such intense pressure to get married has meant the Chinese wedding industry is booming. There’s a cool documentary about it, which you can see here.
11. Every bride has a price
While we’re on the subject of marriage, one of the sobering aspects of Chinese society is the wedding dowry or bride price.
Some Chinese girls will expect her man to pay her family a large sum of money before marrying. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, minimum.
How much the guy pays depends on things like where she’s from, her age, and even how beautiful she’s considered to be.
12. Squat toilets are everywhere
Ahhh, the good old squatty potty.
No, your hotel room in China won’t have one. But yes, they’re everywhere else.
The cleanliness of squat toilets ranges from ‘so clean you could eat off the floor’ to ‘so dirty you’ll want to vomit’.
Some people argue that squatting is better on the bowels. I guess a billion people can’t be wrong?
13. Toddlers are allowed to poop on the street
Many foreigners who come to China find this custom quite shocking. Basically, babies and toddlers have pants with a big split down the back, known as open-crotch pants.
So, whenever they need to do their business, the parent simply places the bub in a roadside garden bed, in the gutter, or any outdoor public place they can find.
It often happens in crowded places, and it’s totally allowed. Outside the biggest cities, you’d be hard pressed to find a baby change room in China.
I’ve always wanted to take a photo of this custom, but I haven’t due to obvious reasons!
14. Fingernails can denote class
You might see Chinese guys, such as taxi drivers, with one long fingernail. It’s usually the pinky finger.
You can’t do manual labor with long fingernails, so some men have them on display to show they don’t work rough jobs.
This custom is a throwback to the class system in China. Some men with long fingernails may also be wealthy.
If you visit China, you might even see men using their long fingernail to clean out their ears!
15. Road rules aren’t often followed
Chinese roads are a free-for-all.
Vehicles won’t stop for pedestrians to cross the road, even in places where there’s a zebra crossing.
If you visit China, you just have to step out onto the road and hope for the best. I once saw a foreigner cross the road while holding his hand up to the cars, like he was directing traffic.
It was the funniest thing ever!
16. Teacups are always refilled
When you’re drinking tea with people in China, they should always refill your cup before you finish.
It’s a way to honor other people and if you refill someone else’s cup, you’re showing them a great deal of respect.
Never refill your own cup first, instead start with the person with the highest status at the table and pour your own tea last.
17. Hot water is the beverage of choice
While we’re on the topic of Chinese drinks, did you know the locals simply love drinking hot water?
Chinese people actually prefer hot or warm water over cold water.
You’ll see people carry around flasks all day which keeps their water warm. And there are hot water filling stations everywhere.
The locals believe drinking hot water is better for your health.
18. Tetraphobia is a real thing
Tetraphobia is the fear or avoidance of number four.
In Mandarin, ‘four’ sounds like ‘death’, so people will do anything to steer clear of this ominous Chinese number.
In many apartment buildings and hotels in China, you’ll notice there is no button for a 4th floor, and in some cases there’s no button for a 14th floor, 24th floor, and so on. There are some good examples of this here and on this Reddit post.
Houses that have a four in the address often sell for much less than those without it.
Psst! A quick travel tip
If you’re planning a trip to China, don’t forget the internet is censored there.
So, when using hotel Wi-Fi you won’t have access to your favorite sites and apps like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Google and heaps more, unless you get a VPN before you go.
You can find out more about a China VPN here.
Chinese customs all wrapped up
China is full of surprises, and some of the customs of China show just how amazing and crazy this country can be.
Now that you know about some of the weirdest Chinese customs, you can talk about them at your next Chinese dinner party.
Just remember to fill everyone else’s teacup before your own!
Want to keep learning about Chinese customs?
Take a read of my epic guide to Chinese culture and traditions.
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Main image credit: PeiQi Teh on Shutterstock.