Nonverbal Communication in China

Nonverbal communication contains gestures, facial expression, and tones of voice. Sometimes, it is more powerful than verbal communication. Like verbal-communication, nonverbal communicative gestures are also different according to the region. China is one of the biggest countries in the world, so the meaning of nonverbal interaction is quite different between distant regions. Therefore, I am going to deal with general and typical nonverbal communicative skills and gestures in China.

 First is about greeting. When a younger person is greeting an older man, s/he always should lower head and bend upper body slightly to show respect. It is the most common way to greet very politely. There are certain rules about handshake. It is not used between people of radically different status, for instance, between a student and a professor or an employee and a boss, but between socially equal people like friends or businessmen. Sometimes it happens between unequal people. In this case, however, a person in lower status cannot offer his or her hands first. If you do, it is considered very rude. Plus, nodding head or slight bow is also sufficient between close friends, but hugging and kissing are uncommon in China when people greet.

Second is about touching. China is not a touch-oriented society. Therefore, people usually try to avoid touching or being touched especially when they meet for the first time. However, there is an interesting cultural feature; Chinese girls have such close physical contact with their friends of the same sex. For example, it is quite common for them to walk along arm in arm. And personal space is much less in China and Chinese stand much closer than Westerners.

Third is about eye contact. When Chinese people speak face-to-face, direct eye contact and staring is uncommon. A speaker rivets the listener with sustained, unbroken eye contact, but a listener does not make eye contact or look at the speaker’s face consistantly. One of my Chinese friends, Dian who is an exchange student in MSU, told me that “People in China usually look counterpart’s nose when they talk. It is comfortable way not awkward for both a speaker and a listener”.

Fourth is about beckoning gestures. To beckon someone, the palm face downward and the fingers are moved in scratching motion. If you beckon a person with the palm face upward, it may be considered that you look down the person and it is very rude.

 Last thing is about nonverbal gestures. Let me introduce some general and important gestures in China.


This gesture is used in informal situations. It means you agree with somebody else.


Putting your right hand on the position of the heart means it “sincere promise”. The ancient Chinese thought that the memory of human beings is based in the heart, thus this gesture is a typical iconic metaphor.


Women usually use this gesture when they feel satisfied and don’t want other people to know it. In Chinese culture, women express their feelings in a more introvert or discreet manner. Therefore, they usually prefer this gesture to be considered polite.

When you want to express your gratitude to somebody, this gesture is great to show your thankfulness. There is a way to express your thankfulness when you are served. But, keep in mind! You should express it in different way.

North Chinese gesture for “Thank you for serving me”

South Chinese gesture for “Thank you for serving me”

If someone make you get mad or insult, this gesture lets you show your irritation. It means “Damn you!” If you make this gesture first, it means, “If you have guts, come and take me!”.

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