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02 June 2018

Chinese Gestures and Body Language

Body language has a huge influence on how we communicate with others. When used effectively it considerably enhances your verbal message. In business it can help deliver a successful pitch, close a sale and increase profit from business negotiations. Although body language is mostly subconscious it is culturally formed and learned through social situations. Therefore the meaning of even the most basic gestures and postures can vary between different countries and cultures. This can make it very challenging to communicate across cultures especially in one as different as China. To help you with this, here is a list of some common Chinese gestures and body language.

Handshake

Chinese Body -Language - Serica Consulting - Handshake

Handshakes are the most common greeting in the West and people are judged heavily on the quality of their handshake. The majority of the world has adopted this custom, especially in formal settings, but in China, this isn’t a fully developed concept. Therefore you might be greeted with a very light handshake or no handshake at all. Do not take any offence or judge them for not doing this, it simply isn’t a part of their culture. Chinese gestures and body language

Sitting

Westerners generally view any way of sitting as perfectly acceptable as long as it doesn’t show a sloppy or laid-back attitude. However in China resting your ankle over your other knee runs the risk of pointing your feet at another person, which is considered very rude because feet are seen as dirty. Where possible always try to sit with a solid and balanced posture to avoid offending anyone.

Counting

Chinese Body -Language - Serica Consulting - Count

Chinese people count to ten on just one hand which is very confusing when you first encounter it. Before going take the time to learn each gesture and their respective numbers.

Nose Tapping

Tapping the nose is a very common gesture in the west. It means ‘confidential’ or ‘secret’ in Anglo countries. In other European countries touching or rubbing the nose can signify disbelief or rejection. However, in China nose tapping is done to refer to oneself. So if you tap your nose to indicate secrecy or disbelief you will not be understood.

Zuòyī 作揖

This hand bow is a traditional way of expressing gratitude and wishing others good fortune. In modern China, this is mainly used during major holidays and formal occasions. Simply cover your right fist with your left hand and bring it close to your chest.

Touching Peoples Head

Westerners don’t generally attach much symbolic importance to the head and often touch people’s head or hair, e.g. ruffling a child’s hair. But in China, as in many Asian countries, the head is considered sacred. Therefore touching people on their heads is reserved for people with intimate connections: husbands and wives, parents and children, lifelong friends. So inadvertently touching someone on their head is offensive and can even evoke considerable anger.

Eye Contact

Direct eye contact is an essential component of good communication in the majority of western cultures. It shows you are confident, sincere and have nothing to hide. But in China, the opposite is the case as strong eye contact is often perceived as a sign of disrespect or even a direct challenge. Therefore the less direct eye contact you have with an individual, the more respect you show. So keep in mind that if a Chinese person is avoiding direct eye contact with you, it does not mean they are insincere or are hiding something, they’re showing you respect.


Taking a little time to study Chinese gestures and body language help you to succeed in business there. The above list is by no means comprehensive but does cover the most common sources of confusion that foreigners encounter.