5 Gestures To Avoid In China

5 Gestures To Avoid In China

Gestures are an important part of effective communication. We were asked an interesting question on Quora which got us thinking about Chinese etiquette! Every country and culture has its unique gestures. However, some gestures should be avoided altogether. China is no different; there are certain things you must avoid if you don’t want to offend.

Bear Hugs

In the west, it can be really common to hug or touch people in some way as a form of greeting. For example, French and Italians will exchange a kiss on the cheek. In America and Britain, you might hug someone to say hello. Surprisingly, in China, such gestures are disrespectful. Don’t be surprised if your attempt at a hug leaves you hanging. Furthermore, public displays of affection are not the norm. It’s best to keep your hands to yourself no matter how keen you are. When greeting someone just nod and smile or shake their hand gently.

Not On Point

Finger-pointing is a quick way to get on someones bad side in China. This gesture has a very negative connotation. By pointing at someone you are giving them unwanted attention. Typically, when we point a finger at someone we are isolating and blaming them for something. It is also rude to point at people with objects such as pens or chopsticks. Even worse if those objects are dirty.

Mind your Feet

Similar to our last point. Pointing at someone or something with your feet is very rude in China. Ironically, in behavioral analysis, when we point our feet towards someone it means we like them. However, in China, pointing your feet at someone or something is a sign of disrespect. This is because feet are considered dirty. So even showing the soles of your feet is an offensive act.


Using your hands whilst speaking to express emotion is common in many languages, especially Italian. Conversely, in Chinese, flamboyant hand gestures are a faux pas. Such gestures can have you labelled as an attention seeker, especially in public spaces. At the very least people will think you are obnoxious or contrived. It is also rude in some parts of china to place your thumb between the middle and index fingers. So best to keep your jazz hands to yourself!

Both Hands On Deck

Many cultures have etiquette about how to give and receive items. In many countries, it is rude to give to receive items with your left hand since this hand is used for cleansing. In China, it is rude to give and receive objects with only one hand. This show you don’t respect the other person or the items you are giving or receiving. Both hands are also used when serving food or drink as a sign of mutual respect.

Make sure to bookmark this page next time you visit China! If you’re interested in visiting, studying or working China why not check out our Learn Chinese, Work in China interview series!

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