Mainland China is a country rich with tradition. Understanding it before you arrive will make for a smoother trip, plus it will help you to better relate to the billions and billions of people that call it home.

Here are some quick cultural facts and traditions to keep in mind when traveling through China.

Older people are highly regarded

In China, it’s important to be respectful to older people. If you meet a group of Chinese people, make sure to greet the oldest person in the group first. Spend time in China and you’ll notice that all adults are greeted with some time of honor, for example, teachers are always addressed as “laoshi.”

There’s no need to bow

Please don’t confuse China with Japan. Given their steep rivalry, it will go over like a lead balloon. Shaking hands is completely acceptable when meeting someone new. Also, a smile works in every country so don’t be afraid to use yours here too.

Chinese holidays are awesome

There are many interesting holidays that are observed nationally in China from the Autumn Festival to the May 4th holiday. While it will make getting to landmarks and points of interest difficult because everyone else is doing it, if you make Chinese friends while in China, you will hopefully have the pleasure of being invited to join them for a festive meal during one of these holidays. The best, and the biggest, is Chinese New Year which takes place between mid-January and mid-February and marks the starts of the Lunar New Year. It’s a 2-week-long celebration that involves feasts with family, plenty of fireworks and parades, and paying visits to relatives.

Food is life

Chinese people strongly believe in the healing power of food. And while you might be surprised that the cuisine you find is nothing like the takeout place up the street from your house, you’ll find much to love about it. There’s a lot of pork involved, but also plenty of tofu and vegetables. Each region has its own distinctive style so be sure to seek out the dishes the area you’re in is known for. Chinese people are always asking if you have eaten or if you’ve eaten enough. If you clear your plate at someone’s home, don’t be surprised to find them filling it right back up. They’ll think you haven’t eaten enough and don’t want to be ashamed that they didn’t serve you plenty of food.

Gift giving and receiving is an art form

When presented with a gift or giving one, always do it with both hands. Don’t wrap it ornately either. Red is always a welcome color for gifts that you can never go wrong with. If you’re given a gift such as a red envelope which is customary on holidays and filled with money, don’t ever open it in front of the giver though make sure to thank them heartily before tucking it into your pocket.

Chinese superstitions to watch out for

Everyone has their superstitions, especially China! Never stick chopsticks standing upright in your rice, never write with red ink, don’t give clocks or watches as gifts, and avoid the number 4 like the plague. There are many more but these are definitely the most upsetting.

Be mindful of your words

Lastly, Chinese people are very patriotic and don’t get the same freedoms as other countries do. Bringing up politics, especially negatively, is a bad idea. Stick to something more palatable, such as how much you like the food!

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