10 rules for Chinese chopstick etiquette

Here we give you some simple tips to help you use the chopsticks properly in China. We tell you what to do and what not to do, so you learn chopstick etiquette correctly and are well prepared next time you eat Chinese food.

The use of chopsticks is important either you use metal chopsticks, plastic chopsticks, disposable wooden chopsticks, bring your own chopsticks etc. Do remember that food culture and eating etiquette has been an important part of Chinese culture from ancient China all the way to modern times. Thus, Chinese chopstick etiquette and table manners play an important role in China are something that you should pay attention to while visiting a Chinese restaurant.

1 Don’t put your chopsticks straight into a bowl of rice, as this will ruin the dining experience among Chinese people

People in China burn incense sticks placed in rice or other foods to honour the dead. Placing the chopsticks vertically into the food or the rice bowl will be seen as a sign of bad luck, as well as a lack of respect for others and the spirit of a dead person.

2 When you are at the dining table, avoid using your chopsticks as a toy

By correctly using the chopsticks, you show respect for other cultures. Chopsticks should not be used as drums, tapped or banged together. Avoid slamming your chopsticks into the dish or plate, as this activity is linked to something that beggars do.

3 According to Chinese table manners, dishes should not be pulled toward you with chopsticks

In China, plates should always be picked up or moved by hand.

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4 Do not use the little finger

The chopsticks should only be held by each hand’s thumb, index finger, and middle finger. It would be best not to use the little finger, as this is not common and makes it more challenging to handle the chopsticks. If you use the little finger, it seems like you “act strangely”, and some Chinese might view you as having bad habits and not paying attention to proper manners.

5 Do not transfer food to another person’s chopsticks

It is better to use an intermediary plate to hold the meal and then pass the plate to the person who wants it, rather than use your chopsticks or any other utensil that isn’t given. This is because of hygiene.

When the Chinese are eating together and having a shared plate with family members, close friends, colleagues etc, it is common to use gōng kuài 公筷 “shared chopsticks”. These chopsticks are not used for eating but for picking up food. Either they are put on plates or accompany each dish and have become an important part of modern Chinese food culture.

6 Never use chopsticks to pick your teeth in public and make unpleasant sounds while eating

The Chinese will find this impolite and a sign of bad manners.

7 Never point your chopsticks at anyone, especially an older person, guest of honour or someone with a higher social rank than you

This will be seen as a lack of respect and good manners. You can see this as using your finger to point at someone, which some people might be offended by and is often used during arguments. Would you see this as a sign of respect?

8 According to basic chopsticks etiquette in China, you should not suck or lick the ends of chopsticks

The Chinese might see such behaviour as a sign of poor manners and a lack of respecting Chinese etiquette.

9 The Chinese view the double, a par or two as a symbol of harmony. Do not create disharmony by using a pair of broken or mismatched chopsticks of a different colour when eating.

Take a new pair of chopsticks, and not simply one to replace a broken one.
It is not seen as good practice to use chopsticks that are not all the same length. Using chopsticks of different sizes reminds more traditional Chinese people of a coffin and funeral rites. In the Chinese language, you have the saying sān cháng liǎng duǎn 三长两短 “three long, two short”. A coffin without a lid comprises traditionally five boards, three long and two short.

10 Chopsticks should not be used as a hair ornament

Chopsticks are used for eating as an eating utensil and are not the same as hair ornaments. With probably would not look good with a fork in your hair, right?

As we now have explained the important chopstick etiquette in China, you can take a firm grip on the chopsticks and we can wish you “bon appetit” or what we in Chinese say: qǐng màn yòng 请慢用. While this expression literally means “please eat slowly”, it can be translated as “Please, enjoy your meal”!


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