5 Things Foreigners in China Shouldn’t Do

5 Things Foreigners in China Shouldn’t Do
May 22, 2024 By Tom Ackerman , eChinacities.com

If you’re unfamiliar with China or you just don't get out much, you might not know that certain things are done a little differently around here. While China isn't as wild and wonderful as many people think back home and foreigners do have a little leeway in their behaviour, there are certain things that’ll land you with, at best, an eye roll, at worst, a spell in jail. For your perusal and edification, here are five things foreigners in China shouldn’t do.

Foreigners in China
Source: David Shankbone

Lose your cool

Bad China Days (BCD) can be frustrating to say the least, but losing your temper, whether it be with a shop owner or a customs official, is not only bad form, but could land you in a whole lot of trouble. Despite the loss of much of the renowned Chinese etiquett of old, the suppression of emotions is still a highly valued trait here.

Though not as hyper-suppressed as their Japanese neighbours, the Chinese still buzz like flies around public displays of anger due to the rarity of the spectacle. Not only will you attract a crowd of onlookers if you lose your cool, but many people will respond to your anger with total non-cooperation or get angry right back at you. Either way, it’s not a great outcome for you.

This isn’t America or the UK, where the angrier you get, the more you get. In fact, if tempers really flare and you end up in some kind of physical altercation, rest assured that the strong arm of the law will almost certainly come down hardest on a foreigner.

Embarrass someone

Honour is very important in China and can easily be lost. To lose your honour in public is known as “losing face,” and it’s kind of a big deal. It is therefore best to be especially careful about embarrassing anyone in China. That can include disrespect, insult and criticism of even the mildest form.

If you need to communicate something even slightly negative to a Chinese friend or colleague, it’s better to do it in private. Even a bit of light banter or sarcasm could turn out to be totally humiliating to a Chinese person.

Let it all hang out

I fully agree that the heat and humidity of the summers in southern China can be oppressive. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t give you a free pass to trot through town with a whole lot of bare flesh on show.

Men don’t tend to take their shirts off in China. Even the relatively demur “Beijing Bikini,” where blokes roll up their tops to let their muffin tops air out, is frowned upon these days. You’ll only see a handful of labourers and a few toothless drunks going without their shirts in China’s rural villages. It’s not a good look, however nice your abs are.

The same basic principle applies to displays of female flesh. Despite 90-foot billboards of half-naked women everywhere you look, most Chinese ladies still dress relatively modestly. You may see the odd crop top and some pretty short shorts these days, but you’re very unlikely to see a woman in a bikini top or her bum cheeks on show outside of a beach or pool. Even then, most opt for one-piece swimming suits that leave much more to the imagination. So unless you enjoy being ogled and approached by horny guys on the street, it's best to keep the beach wear for the beach.

Let your visa expire

It’s easily done, but if you overstay your official welcome in China, expect to pay the price. Attempting to leave the country even a few days after your visa expires is going to land you in hot water. At best, you’ll get fined 500 RMB for every day you have overstayed. At worst, you could end up in immigration jail or banned from the country forever.

And remember that these things always take longer than you’d think in China. Put a reminder in your calendar at least three weeks before your visa is due to expire.

Insult China or Chinese food

Chinese people are very patriotic — a trait that only seems to be getting more pronounced with younger generations. You’ll likely find yourself receiving a warm welcome from most Chinese people, with their first questions being “Where are you from?”, “Do you like China?” and “Do you like Chinese food?” Feel free to answer the first question honestly, but be sure to answer the second and third in the affirmative, whatever your opinions may be.

However frustrating your morning at the bank was and however bad that mala tang is feeling in your guts right now, your new Chinese friend doesn’t want to know. You love China and you love the food. End of story.

Slagging off China to Chinese people is like someone outside your family talking trash about your mother. It may be true but it’s not anyone else’s place to say so.

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Losing your cool: I have seen some loud arguments between Chinese people and it is very true that a crowd of onlookers quickly forms. Insult Chinese food: I am honest and point out some dishes I like and a few I dislike. Chinese food is varied and one can likely find a few dishes they enjoy. Nobody gets offended if you mention a few dishes you dislike as most Chinese people also have some dishes they dislike. As long as you make sure to point out more positive than negative dishes you will not upset anybody.

Jul 05, 2024 21:21 Report Abuse


I'm fine with treating locals with dignity and giving them face. They could also help by not saying childish things like 'hellooo, how are you?' every time I walk past. Respect has to go both ways.

Jun 10, 2024 21:18 Report Abuse


1) so it is ok for the Chinese to scream abuse at you (it has happened to me) when I kept my calm in the face of open hostility. 3) This is incorrect. You are unlikely to see a foreigner (unless young and male) wearing inappropriate clothing in public. However you are quite likely to see young Chinese women dressed in what a friend of mine described as 'prostitute clothes' in summer. 4) this is something drummed into foreign travelers before they arrive, so not likely at all. 5) Chinese should learn not to ask the questions "do you like China" or "do you like chinese food?" It is plain rude to ask these questions as some foreign cultures value honesty over face. Foreigners are asked all the time to align to local customs, which is fair enough, but this does not give Chinese free rein to ask questions only to claim ignorance of what it is appropriate to ask other cultures. This is a two way street.

May 24, 2024 18:18 Report Abuse


The problem is the questions are extremely general. I am also asked if America is safe and this is a complex answer. I have to explain that it varies a lot and it is important to research the city if you are traveling there. China and America are both huge countries with a lot of variety.

Jul 06, 2024 13:14 Report Abuse