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20 taboos in the Chinese culture that should be avoided

Every culture has its own taboos that should be avoided as a way to respect each person’s culture. Especially when you travel to another country or have a friend that follows a different culture, it is important to be aware to avoid misunderstandings.

Here are 20 taboos observed by many of about 1.35 million Chinoys in the country:


1.Usage of odd numbers

Odd numbers are usually avoided especially for birthday celebrations and weddings. To avoid unfortunate things from happening, even-numbered dates are preferred over odd-number dates especially in holding big events.


2. Using the number 四 (Four)

In Chinese, the number four (四, sì) sounds the same as death (死, sǐ). For this reason, the number four is avoided in almost everything including phone numbers, plate numbers, the quantity of gifts, and even address numbers. Properties with addresses that contain the number four usually collect less rent. This is why most apartments on the fourth floor are rented by foreigners.


3. Reading a book during ko tiam

When you are watching over your store or as Chinoys call it, ko tiam, they are discouraged to read a book because “book” (書, shū) sounds like “lose” (輸, shū).


4. Sweeping towards the door

Especially during the Chinese New Year, one must be careful with their sweeping direction. Shopkeepers are careful not to sweep toward the door because it is believed that good fortune will be swept out of the shop.


5. Turning the fish

When eating a meal, never turn over fish when you are with a fisherman as the motion symbolizes a boat capsizing.


6. Offering Umbrellas

Also, never offer a friend an umbrella because the word umbrella (傘, sǎn) sounds similar to 散 (sàn, to break up) and the act is a sign that you will never see each other again.


7. Leaving food on one’s plate

Particularly grains of rice, leaving food on one’s plate is believed to result in marriage to a spouse with many marks on their face.


8. Sticking chopsticks up

The Chinese have a lot of Dining Etiquettes to be followed and this is probably the taboo people know about the most. Chopsticks should never be left straight up in a bowl of rice. This is said to bring bad luck as chopsticks stuck in rice look similar to incense placed in urns, as well as, practiced by the Chinese as a way to offer food to the dead.


9. Sharing a pear

Sharing a pear with your friends or families is considered as a taboo. The reason lies with the fact that the phrase for “sharing a pear” in Chinese is 分梨(fēn lí) which sounds a lot like 分离(fēn lí) that means “to separate.”


10. Grab the last piece of food

Passing the last piece when you’re dining with people is considered politeness in China, which means you’re thoughtful and not selfish. On most occasions, the last piece will be retained for the elder and the elder will decide if to have it or share it with others.


12. Giving a clock or a watch as a gift

Clocks symbolize that time is running out. Never give a clock or watch as a gift because “to gift a clock” (送鐘, sòng zhōng) sounds like a “funeral ritual” (送終, sòng zhōng).


12. Giving shoes as a gift

In the traditional Chinese mind, giving your loved one shoes as a gift will cause the break up because it is thought to signify that the receiver will walk away from you. Be cautious when you’re selecting presents for your Chinese boy/girlfriend, especially for the first time.


13. Showing up empty-handed

If you visit someone’s house, giving a gift is not required but it is considered rude to show up empty-handed. Even though the Chinese won’t call you out for not bringing anything, you may feel a bit uncomfortable once you see other people showing up with little tokens of appreciation or a basket of fruits as a gift to the hosts.


14. Sharing negative stories during happy occasions

It is considered as a taboo and may result in bad luck in the Chinese culture to share stories about death, dying, and ghost stories during special occasions and holidays.


15. Being careless during the Chinese New Year

There are many Chinese New Year rules to be wary about. During the Chinese New Year, inauspicious words such as break, spoil, die, gone, and poor should not be said or talked about. The Chinese New Year is an important holiday to the Chinese so they believe one should avoid crying during the New Year. If one does cry, it is believed that one will cry all year which technically means his or her luck for the year will not be auspicious.


16. Biting a birthday noodle and celebrating after the actual birth date

Birthday noodles are to be slurped whole. Noodles should not be bitten or cut as this is believed to shorten the celebrant’s life. Chinese birthdays must also only be celebrated before or on the actual birth date. Belatedly celebrating one’s birthday is considered taboo.


17. Visiting a funeral or a woman who just gave birth when one’s wedding is three months away

Couples who have their wedding at least 3 months away should avoid going to a funeral or visiting a woman who had just given birth. If one of the couple’s parents passes away before the wedding, the wedding must be postponed for 100 days, as attending happy celebrations, such as a wedding, during mourning is considered disrespectful to the dead.


18. Holding celebrations during the Ghost Month

The Hungry Ghost Festival is held during the seventh lunar month. In order to avoid encountering bad luck, people are usually home early and big celebrations are to be postponed. Aside from postponed celebrations, building houses, buying new things, and even traveling must be done after the Ghost Month is finished.


19. Whistling at night

You must never whistle during the night. In Chinese culture, people believe whistling is a way to lure spirits and ghosts. It draws their attention which will lead them to follow and take away the person that is whistling.


20. Writing someone’s name in red

In ancient times, a criminal that is about to be executed will have their name written with chicken blood. This routine continued and evolved which led to these executed criminals having their name written in red on official records. It still applies today as nowadays, teachers and accountants write corrections using a red pen. This is why until this day, writing someone’s name in red is considered rude and taboo.

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