LWB Community Blog

Wisdom Wednesdays: Banqueting in China

I have to say straight off that I LOVE travel and experiencing new cultures and new foods. It is a “given” that no matter why you are in China, be it business, adoption or a return journey to your child’s hometown, that it will be celebrated with a banquet. In so many cultures, much friendship and business happens around a table of food – despite the possible difficulty of language limitations. A little knowledge by you of local customs can go a long way towards cementing relationships. Here are three things I have learned about banqueting in China.

• Seating – Do not sit down at the table in advance of the host, but always wait to be placed. There is a particular order with the senior ranking guest seated to the left of the senior ranking host and directly opposite the door.

• Eating – Only start to eat after the host waves a hand to indicate “begin ,” and it is polite to further wait until they take their first mouthful. Be aware that what some might consider bad table manners in the west is perfectly acceptable in the east. Slurping or raising your bowl close to your chin while eating is fine. Never eat food that falls onto the table no matter how tasty a morsel.

• Toasting – It is quite usual to be asked if you would like “liquor, wine or beer” before the meal starts. While the tiny “hard liquor” glass is quite small, if you choose that option you are expected to finish each toast in one gulp and have your glass immediately refilled. If you do not drink alcohol, let that be known at the very beginning. During the meal there will usually be many toasts, with officials often walking to you in order to toast and clink glasses. You should reciprocate toasts to your hosts as well. One custom that certainly could gain you favor is to aim your glass rim lower than your esteemed hosts glass rim for the clink. This mark of respect suggests they are the senior honoured person. This very often means several attempts at lowering your aim, with your host also trying to go lower than you and the glasses now hovering near knee level. Definitely a fun moment despite language barriers! And remember that it is expected as the last toast of the meal to again honor the senior host present by downing what is left with a wish of good health, a clink of the glasses, and a shout of “gan-bei.” (empty glass).

~Julie Flynn Coleman, Healing Homes Director

Do you have advice to share with people about banqueting in China? Leave your tips in the comments section!

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  • roomforatleastonemore says:

    I have learned so much after 3 trips to China. Yes, do not clean your plate. It will be refilled!

    I can hardly eat “Chinese” food here now b/c the food in China is so yummy. Now I’m not huge on the soup with all the chicken parts in it, but the veggies and seasonings … so many offerings at each meal. If one can’t find something they like, they must be really picky.

    Our 12YO son laughs now about wondering in his early days home (at 10 years old), “is this all?” as I would place a meat and two sides on the table. He was used to his foster Mama’s amazing cooking, and she often had 8-10 items in one meal.

    Oh and the huge turntables … I WANT ONE BADLY. We have 6 children, and boy would one of those come in handy at our table. Also, it does take getting used to that there are NO serving utensils. Everyone just uses their chopsticks to get more food from the serving containers on the turntable.

    Whatever you do, try to learn how to navigate chopsticks. They are always so happy to see westerners who don’t have to ask for a fork. 🙂

    Oh, this post and my really long comment makes my mouth water for some hot pot in Chongqing and sauteed cucumbers in Yunnan!

    🙂 Love this series btw!

  • Jill says:

    Also remember that the banquet is not over until the fruit comes! Pace yourself accordingly, as there can be so many courses. And if you eat everything on your plate it will be refilled, so leave a few bites of any item that you don’t want more of.

  • Anonymous says:

    Would second the thought that you shouldn’t agree to alcohol toasting unless you are prepared to drink A LOT. I actually learned that it is okay to designate someone to be your “proxy” if you aren’t able to hold your liquor.