China Underground > Essential guide to China > Traditional Chinese Culture

Traditional Chinese Culture

Table of Contents

China is the world’s 3rd largest country by area after Russia and Canada. The country also has one of the world’s four ancient civilizations (Babylon, Egypt, and India are the three others). China is a huge, old, and interesting country with a rich culture. Its written history goes back by 3,600 years. Traditional Chinese culture is unique and diverse and despite its size, is harmoniously blended. You will find many indigenous Chinese ethnic groups throughout the nation but a strong administration at the center keeps the country united.

For many years, the country kept its door closed to the outside world. It eventually opened up a few decades back as China embraced openness and went for rapid economic growth. In some ways, though, China is still rigid in its approach to the outside world. There has been a rapid transformation because of this growing economy and with many Chinese people working and living abroad. However, despite this, Chinese values and cultural traditions remain largely unchanged.

China Facts

China is a more diverse country compared to any other, except probably India. Here are some interesting facts about this East Asian country.

  1. China is the world’s most populated country. The 2022 population estimate is 1,411,750,000. 60.8% of the people live in urban areas.
  2. It is a great state with 56 ethnic groups. In addition, there are 55 minority groups, including Hui, Manchu, Zhuang, and Miao. Han is the largest state. Many groups have their own writing system and language.
  3. A skyscraper is constructed every 5 days. There are more than 200 skyscrapers over 150 meters tall. By 2030, an estimated 1,500 buildings will be more than 150 meters tall.
  4. Hong Kong has the world’s most skyscrapers.
  5. Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Wikipedia, Netflix, Blogspot, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, LinkedIn are all banned in China.
  6. Colors have different meanings in China. Red represents happiness and good luck. White is related to funerals and death. Ancient Chinese civilization regarded yellow as the royal color.
  7. Many Chinese people eat shark fin. They eat it in food and soups.
  8. There used to be many ancient Chinese languages. Archaic Chinese go back to 1250 BC.
  9. Calligraphy originated in China. Chinese calligraphy can be dated back to 1100 B.C.E.
  10. Chinese medicine has a 2,100 year old history.

Chinese Culture and Tradition

Ancient Chinese culture and traditions continue to influence the daily life of people. You will see this in the food, dressing, religion, etiquette, festivals, and family life.


In ancient China, the major religions or philosophies were Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. They have both individually and collectively influenced the Chinese people. These philosophical beliefs have not just influenced spirituality, but also the arts, science, government, and the social structure.

  • Confucianism – Confucianism was very popular in the ancient times. It is named after Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 B.C.E. he provided guidance regarding family interactions, how people should behave in the public, social order, and even how the state needs to be governed.
  • Taoism – Also known as Daoism, this spiritual philosophy is about 2000 years old. It focused mostly on life’s spiritual elements and covered nature and the universe.
  • Buddhism – Buddhism in China is the third major religion. It focuses on attaining deep knowledge through personal development.

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 90% of the Chinese people are non-religious or atheists. However, faith and Chinese philosophy is deep-rooted in the society, which is why you will see the people following many rituals.

Chinese Etiquette

  • Greet others with a nod or handshake
  • Always address the eldest person first to show respect
  • Always be formal, respectful, and polite
  • Chinese etiquette requires you to receive and present gifts with both the hands
  • Don’t unwrap a gift quickly unless the giver insists
  • Always take off your hat before entering a temple

Chinese New Year Traditions

Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. It is the beginning of the Chinese year and the most important festival. Families will honor their ancestors and deities. It is also a grand feast when young people will give gifts to the children and their elders. In many places, they celebrate the event with a dragon boat festival, the Chinese New Year dragon dance, and display of Chinese art. New Year greetings are exchanged just like the western society. The homes have colorful New Year decorations that showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage. You will find many Chinese symbols for welcome outside the door.

Every Chinese year has an animal sign. For 2023, it is the Water Rabbit, which from the ancient times has been the symbol of peace, prosperity, and longevity. So, 2023 is a year of hope. When is the Chinese New Year for 2024? It is on February 10th. The happy New Year date in the Chinese calendar varies from year to year slightly.

Chinese Food Culture

The China food culture is also rich. Meals have two parts. Noodles, steamed buns, rice, meat dishes, and vegetable form the staple food. Families like to have food together and each person will have his or her own rice bowl. The accompanying dishes, however, are served in communal plates. Before eating, many offer food to Chinese deities. Most families won’t have desserts after their meals. Desserts are considered as snacks.

Chinese food can also represent social status. Rich families prepare expensive and rare foods when they are treating guests. This includes shark’s fin, bird’s nest, lobster, and bear’s paw.

Traditional Chinese family culture

Chinese traditions value close family ties. There are well-defined roles for various family members. The elders are respected for their wisdom. Even in modern-day China society, it is considered offensive to question their authority. The father is the provider, protector, and the maintainer of the family. He has the final say in important matters. In modern society, however, he does not have absolute control anymore. Children can select their career but it is deemed respectful to consult with the elders.

Chinese Traditional Wedding Culture

Weddings are elaborate and lavish, especially in the urban areas. Ancient Chinese marriage had many ritualistic practices, many of which exist to this day. In recent times, many of them have been toned down, but most people still like them because they want to honor the culture and customs.

Weddings feature symbolic aspects where the focus is on abundance, prosperity, and happiness for both the families. The groom’s family offers many gifts like cakes and food when the engagement is announced. Both the families will gift “Double Happiness Cakes” to their friends and relatives along with the invitation. The families are formally introduced in a Tea Ceremony when they drink the Chinese Tsao Chün tea.

Wedding invitations are typically in red. The card is enclosed in a red envelop. The wording is in gold color.

Cultural Customs

Each country has its own, unique customs. China has rich traditions and its customs are unique too. Some of the Chinese customs can be confusing to those who haven’t visited the country, or have little knowledge of the society in China. For example, burping after a meal is very common. It is considered as a sign of gratitude for the food and a compliment to the chef. You will see many young Chinese people also doing this. Also, in traditional Chinese society, gifts are refused several times before they are accepted.

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