Chinese Table Manners

Last Update: 2008-6-19 3:24:00; By chinatravelservice

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Seat arrangement

Chinese diet has a long history. In the country which has been a nation of etiquette and particular about food being the first necessity of the people since antiquity, dining etiquette has naturally become an important part of dining culture.

The banquet etiquette of China is said to originate from Lord Zhou. Through thousands of years of evolution, it has finally developed a set of universally accepted dining etiquette up to the present. It is the inheriting and developing of the dining ritual system in ancient times.

Dining etiquette varies with the character and purpose of a banquet and in different areas, it also differs in a thousand ways. The dining etiquette in ancient times is divided according to social strata: palace, local authorities, trade associations and folk society, etc. Whereas, modern dining etiquette is simplified as: master (Aamphitryon) and guests. 

As a guest, people should be particular about apperance when attending a banquet and determine whether to bring small gifts or good wine along according the degree of relationship. They should also keep the appointement and be punctual. After they arrive, they should first introduce themselves or let the master do the introduction if unknown to others, and then comply with the master’s arrangement and take the seat. The seating arrangement is the most important part in the whole Chinese dining etiquette.

From ancient times to the present, owing to the evolution of dining furniture, the arrangement of seats has been changing accordingly. On the whole, the order of seats is: taking the seats on the left and facing the east or the entrance gate as the seat of honor. The seat of honor in a family banquet is reserved for the elder with the highest position in the family hierarchy and the least prominent seat for the one with the lowest positon. 

When a family holds a banquet, the seat of honor is for the guest with the highest status and the master takes the least prominent seat. If the guest of honor is not seated, other people are not allowed to be seated. If he hasn’t eaten, others should not begin to eat.  

When making the rounds of drinks, people drink a toast from the seat of honor down in order.

If it is a round table, then the one facing the entrance door is the guest of honor. The seats on the left hand are in turn second, fourth and sixth, etc, while those on the right hand are in turn third, fifth and seventh, etc, until they join together.

If it is an Eight Immortals table and there is a seat facing the entrance door, then the right seat facing the entrance door is for the guest of honor. If there is no seat facing the entrance door, then the right seat facing the east is the seat of honor. Then the seats on the left side of the seat of honor are the second, fourth, sixth and eighth and those on the right side are the third, the fifth and the seventh.

If it is a grand banquet, the arrangement of tables should be the table of hornor placed in the front middle. The tables on the left are in turn the second, the fourth and the sixth and those on the right are the third, the fifth and the seventh. People take seat according to the identity, status and degree of relationship. 

Dining Etiquette

When taking a dinner, people should behave in a civilized manner, pay attention to their own table manners and keep a good dining habit. Generally they should pay attention to the following several aspects:

Let the elders eat first or when you hear an elder say "let's eat", you start to eat. You should not steal a march on the elders. 

When taking the dinner, you should hold the bowl with the thumb on the mouth of the bowl, the first finger, the middle finger and the third finger on the bottom and the palm of the hand empty. If you don't hold the bowl but bend over the table and eat facing the bowl, it will be regarded as bad table manners. Moreover, it will have the consequence of pressing the stomach and affecting digestion.   

When helping yourself to the dishes, you should take food first from the plate nearby or facing yourather than that in the middle or on the side of others. It's bad manners to use the chopsticks to burrow through the dishes in the plate and "dig for treasure"  and keep your eyes glued to the plates. It is not appropriate to take too much food at a time. When finding some favorite dishes, you should not gobble them like whirlwind scattering wisps of cloud, nor put the plate in front of yourself and eat like a horse without further ado. You should consider your parents and siblings at the same table. If there is not much left in the plate and you want to "clean" it up, you should consult others. If they say they don't want it any more, then you can eat it up.

You should close your mouth to chew food well before you swallow it, which is not only better for digestion, but also the requirement of etiquette on the dinner table. You should by no means open your mouth wide, fill it with large pieces of food and eat up greedily, nor stretch your neck, open your mouth wide, extend your tongue to catch the food when carrying food. Don't put too much food into your mouth at a time. Otherwise, you will leave an avaricious impression on others.

You should behave elegantly when taking a dinner. When taking food, don't bump against your neighbor, nor splash the soup or let the soup drop onto the table. If the corner of your mouth is stained with rice, use a tissue or a napkin to wipe it off gently instead of licking it with your tongue. When chewing food, don't make noises such as "baba" and "bajibaji". You had better not talk with others with your mouth full. Be temperate in telling a joke lest you might spew your food or the food might enter the windpipe and cause danger. If you really need to take with your families, you should speak small. 

When spitting out bones, fish bones and dish dregs, use chopsticks or hand to take them and put them on the table in front of you instead of spitting them directly onto the table or the ground. If you want to cough or sneeze, use your hand or a handkerchief to cover your mouth and turn your head backwards. If you find sand in your mouth when chewing or phlegm in the throat, you should leave the dinner table and spit it out.   

During the dinner, you should try to refill the bowl with rice yourself and take initiative to refill the bowl with rice and dishes for the elders. When the elders do that for you, you should express your thanks.

Be concentrated when taking the dinner. Some children watch TV or read papers when having their meals. It is a bad habit. It is not sanitary, and will influence the digestion and assimilation of food and do harm to eyesight.

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