Traditions and customs of China

What traditions and customs are there in China?

Details of the customs and traditions of China, the Asian giant.


Food in daily life

Rice is the staple food in most of the country. In the north and west, where the climate is too dry to grow rice, wheat is the staple grain. Here, breakfast usually consists of noodles or wheat bread.

In the South, many people start the day with rice porridge, or congee, served with shrimp, vegetables, and pickles. Lunch is similar to breakfast. Dinner is the biggest of the day. Each meal includes soup, which is served as the last course.

People cook in a wok, a metal pan with a curved bottom; this style of cooking requires little oil and a short cooking time. Steaming in bamboo baskets lined with cabbage leaves is another cooking method. Meat is expensive and served sparingly.

The cuisine can be divided into four main geographical varieties. In Beijing and Shandong, specialties include Beijing duck served with pancakes and plum sauce, sweet and sour carp, and bird’s nest soup. Shanghai cuisine uses large amounts of oil and is known for its seafood and cold meat dishes.

Food is particularly spicy in Sichuan and Hunan provinces. Salt and garlic shrimp, frog legs and smoked duck are popular dishes.

Southern Canton and Chaozhou cuisine is the lightest of the four. Seafood, vegetables, roast pork and chicken, and steamed fish are served with fried rice. Dim sum, a breakfast or lunch consisting of a combination of different appetizer-style delicacies, is very popular there.
The cuisine reflects the country’s history of famines caused by factors such as natural disasters and war. The Chinese eat animal parts and species that many other cultures do not, including fish heads and eyes, bird feet and saliva, and dog and cat meat.

Tea is the most common drink. The Han drink it without sugar and black, the Mongolians drink it with milk, and the Tibetans serve it with yak butter. The Chinese are fond of sugary soft drinks, both American brands and locally produced. Beer is a common drink, and there are many local breweries.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Special occasions and large family gatherings often mean large, elaborate meals. In the north, dumplings called jiaozi are served at the Spring Festival and other special occasions. For the Moon Festival in mid-autumn, “moon cakes,” baked cakes filled with ground sesame and lotus seeds or dates, are served.

The banquets that have their origin in the imperial tradition are ceremonial meals common to important state gatherings and business occasions. They are usually held in restaurants and consist of ten or more courses. Rice is not served as it is considered too cheap and common for such an event.


According to custom, marriages are arranged by the couple’s parents. Although this system is less rigid than it used to be, it is still common for young people to use matchmakers. People take a pragmatic approach to marriage, and even those who choose their own spouses often take both practical and romantic considerations into account.

Weddings are generally large and expensive affairs paid for by the groom’s family. For those who can afford it, Western-style weddings are popular, with the bride in a white dress and the groom in a suit and tie.

The legal age for marriage is twenty for women and twenty-two for men. A marriage law enacted by the communists in 1949 gave women the right to choose their husbands and to file for divorce. Although it is difficult to obtain a divorce, the rates are increasing.


Deference and obedience to elders is considered extremely important. There is a hierarchy that places the elderly above the young and men above women; this is reflected in social interaction.

The Chinese people are non-confrontational. Saving face is of paramount importance; appearing to be right or trying to please someone is more important than honesty. It is considered impolite to refuse a request even if it cannot be fulfilled.

Fear of losing dignity is a concern that governs social interactions both large and small; the breach of a duty brings shame not only to the individual, but also to the family and the community.

Individuality is often subsumed into group identity. There is little privacy in the home or family, and housing shortages and cramped quarters often exaggerate this situation.

People touch each other frequently and holding hands of the same sex is common. However, physical contact between men and women in public is limited. Smiling is not necessarily a sign of happiness; it can be a sign of concern or embarrassment.

Visits are an important part of social life. Guests often arrive unannounced and are invited to join the family for a meal. It is customary to bring a small gift when visiting.


Religious beliefs

As a communist state, the country is officially atheist. Fifty-nine percent of the population has no religious affiliation. Twenty percent of the people practice traditional religions (Taoism and Confucianism), 12 percent consider themselves atheists, 6 percent are Buddhists, 2 percent are Muslims, and 1 percent are Christians.

The teachings of Confucius are set forth in The Analects. It is a philosophy that emphasizes responsibility to the community and obedience and deference to elders.

Taoism, founded by Lao Tse Tsu, is more mystical and less pragmatic than Confucianism. The Tao, which translates as “the way,” focuses on the ideals of balance and order, often using nature as a metaphor. Also Includes Animism Elements. Taoism, unlike Confucianism, rejects rank and class. Taoists reject aggression, competition, and ambition.

Buddhism, which came to the country from India, is similar to Taoism in its rejection of effort and material goods. The goal of Buddhism is nirvana, a transcendence of the confines of mind and body.

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive, and many people practice elements of all three in addition to worshiping various gods and goddesses, each of whom is responsible for a different profession or other aspect of life. Luck is paramount in popular belief, and there are many ways to bring good fortune and ward off bad luck.

A type of geomancy called fengshui involves manipulating the environment in an auspicious way. These techniques are used to determine everything from the placement of furniture in a room to the construction of skyscrapers.

Many of the minority groups have their own religions. Some, like the Dais in Yunnan and the Zhuangs in the Southwest, practice animism. The Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Huis are Muslims.

Tibetans follow their own unique form of Buddhism, called Tantric or Lamaist Buddhism, which incorporates many traditions from the indigenous religion called Bon, including prayer flags and prayer wheels and a mystical element.

Despite the many Catholic and Protestant missionaries who came to the country in the early 19th century, Christianity has managed to win few converts. Christians are mostly concentrated in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Religious professionals

Confucianism and Taoism have no central religious figures. In Buddhism, there are monks who dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation. Worship is not usually communal; the only group services are held at funerals.

The central figure in Tibetan Buddhism is the Dalai Lama, a name that translates as “Ocean of Wisdom.” When a Dalai Lama dies, it is believed that he is reincarnated, and it is the duty of the monks to search for his spirit in a newborn child. Today, this position has both political and religious significance. The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in India and pursues the cause of Tibetan independence.

Rituals and sacred places

Taoist temples are dominated by the roof, usually yellow or green, which is adorned with images of gods and dragons. The interior usually consists of a courtyard, a main room with an altar where offerings are placed, and sometimes small shrines to various deities.

Buddhist temples incorporate pagodas, a design that arrived from India around the 1st century AD (the time the religion arrived in China). These temples also display Buddha statues, sometimes huge sculptures of gold, jade, or stone.

Worship usually takes the form of individual prayer or meditation. One form of spiritual practice that is very popular is physical exercise. There are three main traditions. Wushu, a self-defense technique known in the West as gong fu (or kung fu), combines aspects of boxing and gun fighting.

Shadow boxing, called taijiquan (or tai chi chuan), is a series of slow, graceful gestures combined with deep breathing. The exercises mimic the movements of animals, including the tiger, panther, snake, and crane. Qidong is a breathing technique that aims to strengthen the body by controlling qi, or vital energy.

These exercises are practiced by people of all ages and social conditions; Large groups often gather in parks or other public spaces to perform the exercises together.

Buddhist and Taoist temples hold special prayer meetings to mark the full moon and the new moon.

The biggest festival of the year is the New Year’s celebration or Spring Festival, the date of which varies, and which is held between mid-January and mid-February.

People clean their houses thoroughly to symbolize a new beginning, and children are given money in red envelopes for good luck. Activities include fireworks and parades with dancers dressed as lions and dragons. It is time to honor ancestors.

The birthday of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, is celebrated between the end of March and the end of April and is observed by visiting Taoist temples. The birthday of Mazu, the goddess of the sea (also known as Tianhou), is celebrated in a similar way. It falls in May or June.

In mid-April, Yunnan province celebrates the water splash festival. It is a symbolic bath and splashes of water that are supposed to wash away bad luck. The Zhuangs mark the end of the plowing season in the spring with a cattle soul festival, which includes a sacrificial ceremony and food offerings for the cattle.

The Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, in September or October is celebrated with fireworks, paper lanterns, and the gaze of the moon. Confucius’ birthday (September 28) is a time to make pilgrimages to his birthplace in Shandong province.

Death and the afterlife

Funerals are traditionally large and elaborate. The higher the social position of the deceased, the more possessions and people will be buried with him or her to ensure her entry into the afterworld. Traditionally this included horses, carriages, wives and slaves. Chinese mourners dress in white and wrap their heads in white cloth.

Ancestor worship is an important part of the religion, and it is a common Buddhist practice to have a small altar in the house dedicated to deceased family members. April 5, Tomb Sweeper’s Day, or Qingming, is dedicated to visiting the burial place of ancestors and paying their respects.

Food is often placed in graves as offerings. Ghost Month (late August to late September) is a time when spirits of the dead are believed to return to earth. It is not a time for new beginnings, and anyone who dies during this period will not be buried until the following month.

Secular celebrations

January 1 is New Year’s Day, in addition to the traditional Chinese New Year. Other holidays include International Working Women’s Day on March 8, International Labor Day on May 1, Youth Day on May 4, Dragon Boat Festival in May or June, Children’s Day on June 1, the Foundation of the Communist Party of China on July 1, the Foundation of the People’s Liberation Army Day on August 1 (which is celebrated with musical and dance performances by military units), the Day del Maestro on September 10, and National Day on October 1 and 2.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The government censors the production of all artists; it is prohibited to produce works that criticize the Communist Party or its ideals. There is a long tradition of imperial patronage of the arts that continues today in the form of state-funded literary guilds that pay writers for their work.

While providing support to writers, this system also suppresses their creative freedom. However, as the economy has opened up, the government has decreased its support and artists are increasingly dependent on the sale of their works.


Chinese poetry is not only a linguistic feat, but also a visual one. Classic poems express balance through rhyme and tone, as well as through the physical arrangement of characters on the page. The oldest known anthology of poetry, The Book of Songs, was written in 600 BC.

One of the earliest individual poets whose work is still read today is Qu Yuan, best known for his work entitled Li Sao, or The Lament.

A more popular and less elitist literary tradition developed during the Ming dynasty with the spread of prose epics. The most famous are The Water Margin and The Dream of the Red Chamber.

Western influence in the 19th century led to literature based more on the vernacular. The first writer to emerge in this new movement was Lu Xun, whose best-known work is The Rickshaw Boy, which details the lives of rickshaw drivers in Beijing. During the communist revolution, literature was seen as a tool to promote state-sponsored ideology.

While the years after the Cultural Revolution saw some opening in terms of what was permissible, freedom of expression remains restricted. Contemporary writers include Zhang Xianliang, whose work is known for its controversial sexual themes, and Lao Gui, whose work Blood Red Dusk examines the events of the Cultural Revolution.

Graphic arts

The painters are best known for their depictions of nature. The landscapes strive to achieve a balance between yin, the passive feminine force, represented by water, and yang, the masculine element, represented by rocks and mountains. These paintings often have writing, sometimes by the artist and sometimes by a scholar of a later time.

The inscription can be a poem, a dedication or a comment on the work. Communist politicians also adopted this practice, and many paintings bear Chairman Mao’s handwriting.

Writing is considered the highest form of art, and calligraphy is said to be the deepest expression of a person’s character.

China is known for sculpture and ceramics since before the first dynasties. The art of pottery reached its peak during the Song dynasty, when porcelain was developed.

Bronze vessels have been used for thousands of years as religious artifacts. They were engraved with inscriptions and often buried with the dead. Jade was believed to have magical powers that could ward off evil spirits. Sculptures made from the material were placed in tombs, and corpses were sometimes buried in jade suits.

Embroidery is practiced by women who decorate clothes, shoes, and bedding with colorful and elaborate designs of animals and flowers.

Performing arts

Unlike the Western scale, which has eight tones, the Chinese scale has five. There is no harmony in traditional music; all singers or instruments follow the melodic line. Traditional instruments include a two-stringed violin (erhu), a three-stringed flute (“sanxuan”), a vertical flute (“dongxiao”), a horizontal flute (“dizi”), and ceremonial gongs (“daluo”).

Opera is a popular traditional art form. There are at least three hundred different forms of opera from different geographical areas. The shows are elaborate and highly stylized, with acrobatic movements and intricate makeup and costumes.

Actors play one of four types of roles: the male lead (usually a scholar or official), the female lead (usually played by a man), the painted-face roles (warriors, heroes, demons, adventurers, and other characters), and the clown.

The subject is usually historical, and the language is archaic. Opera is not entertainment only for the elite; it is often performed in the market for a few cents a ticket.

There is a lively rock music scene. The most famous performers are Cui Jian and Lui Huan.

Chinese cinema gained international fame in the 1980s and 1990s. Director Zhang Yimou’s films deal with social issues, including women’s lives in the pre-communist period and the ramifications of the Cultural Revolution.

His films, which include Raise the Red Lantern and To Live, have often been the subject of government disapproval or censorship. Director Xie Fei is starting to gain recognition for his social commentary films, which include Our Fields and The Year of Bad Luck.

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