How to ‘Speak’ Chinese With Your Body

Understanding body language and gestures is a vital part of being able to communicate effectively with someone. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
Understanding body language and gestures is a vital part of being able to communicate effectively with someone. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Communication is not just about words. The way people move their heads, the gestures they make with their hands, how they use objects, etc., can all have meaning. And the meaning of such movements will be different in different countries. In fact, what might be considered a good or neutral gesture in one nation may be perceived as rude in another. As far as a Western person visiting China is concerned, a basic knowledge of Chinese body language is necessary to ensure that you understand the gestures people make, and do not end up insulting anyone.

Fanning

In every culture, women have their own way of signaling their interest in men. For instance, a woman might look at a man, smile, and immediately look down, indicating that she is attracted to you and is submissive. Chinese women sometimes employ a unique gesture called “fanning.”

“With a long history of use in China, it is the equivalent of female peacocking; it is traditionally seen in Beijing Opera, film, and television. This is displayed when a woman masks the lower portion of her face from her potential lover using a fan. In modern days, this is simply done using a hand to hide a few squeamish giggles and is representative of the woman’s timid nature,” according to Here.

Pointing fingers

In the West, pointing fingers might be a harmless gesture. Not in China. This is considered very rude. In fact, some Chinese take it as an offense when they are pointed at. Imagine not knowing this and pointing at an important person during a business discussion! When you want to point to someone, you should use all your fingers and not limit yourself to just one.

(Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Pointing at someone is considered very rude in China. (Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Showing agreement

When two parties in the West agree to something, they usually shake hands. But in China, people interlock their last fingers. This gesture is often seen as a sign of goodwill and a desire for the agreement to last a long time.

Chopsticks

The Chinese have some unique customs when it comes to chopstick etiquette. “They are strictly for eating and shouldn’t be used to point at people or things, or to be played with at the table. Moreover, don’t stab your food with the chopsticks making them stand up in your plate — this is considered to be a bad [omen]. Use your chopsticks in the correct manner to eat… and when finished, place them on top of your bowl,” according to Listen & Learn.

Thank you

When you wish to say thank you, make one palm into a fist and place the second open palm on top of it. Accompany this gesture with a slight bow. You can see this gesture in Kung Fu also when opponents use it before a duel. If you are in a restaurant and wish to thank the waiter for their service, tap two fingers on the table. Not doing so might make the waiter think that they have done a shoddy job.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

When you wish to say thank you, make one palm into a fist and place the second open palm on top of it, like the gesture used in Kung Fu. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Feet

In China, feet are seen as dirty. “Crossing your leg in someone’s direction, putting your feet on a table, showing the soles of your feet or gesturing at people with your feet is very rude in Chinese cultures,” according to Fluentu.

Come here

When asking someone to come, Westerners usually hold their hand palm up, have their fingers together, and wave the fingers towards themselves. But in China, the palm should face down and the wave should be done rapidly. This should be employed when calling kids, waiters, taxis, etc. When calling adults of similar or higher status, establish eye contact and slightly bow. The person should come to you.

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