Dating etiquette in China

Photo courtesty of Generalitat de Catalunya

The cultural differences between China and the rest of the world – especially the West – aren’t too pronounced when it comes to dating etiquette, but there are a few details that you should bear in mind before you reach for the breath spray. Naturally, everyone has different likes, dislikes and expectations, but the following are some useful broad guidelines.


Good and bad form in dating

Obviously what constitutes good and bad behavior on a date differs from person to person, but broadly speaking basic common sense should get you through: behave politely, respect your date, arrive on time (maybe doing a bit of a solo dummy run first, so you know the route to travel and potential pitfalls and delays), dress properly, and treat your date with sincerity. Do not be pushy or too eager, show little respect, or boast about yourself. 


The first few dates

First dates are, of course, all about getting to know one another and seeing if you are compatible, but for those dating Chinese women, they might prove a little more tricky. In China, tradition asks women to be shy and introverted, so communication may not be as deep or open as you may be used to, though things will ease up as time goes on. 

Also, during the early period of dating, men are expected to pay for the meal/drinks/films/other expenses. After the first few dates, if a woman wants to continue dating, she will offer to split the bill.

Finally, November 11 is “Singles Day,” and your Chinese partner may particularly want to spend time with you. Don’t call a rain check on this day!



Everybody likes gifts, and the go-to choices of flowers, stuffed animals, chocolate, jewelry, small toys and so on are often popular. 

However, if you are considering flowers as gift, do not buy chrysanthemums, as Chinese society views them as a symbol of death. Likewise avoid carnations, which are symbols of motherhood.

Red roses are always a safe choice, unlike white roses, which can be a gamble – some see them as symbolizing death, while others see them as a symbol of purity. Best avoid, just to be safe.

If you are giving your date a birthday present then avoid clocks or shoes, as the words for these in Chinese (种, zhōng and 鞋, xié) are homonyms for ending and evil, respectively. Similarly, the number four (四, sì) is considered unlucky because it sounds similar to death, so if your date is superstitious, avoid anything to do with that number.


Conversation topics to avoid

Do not pry matters that are too private, such as income, living conditions, living expenses, previous romances, detailed conversation about workplaces and so on. 


Meeting the parents?

If your relationship goes very well for some time, your date may bring up the subject of meeting his or her parents. In China this is usually regarded as confirmation that your relationship is very serious, and that you are considering marriage. 

Exactly how long it takes before a parental meeting is on the cards varies from person to person, and may depend on how eager he or she is to get married. Some may want to bring you to meet the parents after a few months, while others may wait years.

The first family visit to a partner’s parents should be a formal one, and sometimes you will be expected to bring expensive gifts. Such a formal meeting should be made under mutual agreement, so if your boyfriend or girlfriend asks you to visit his or her family, ask if it is a formal visit, and give proper consideration to your decision.

In metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen, people may tend to get married later, having taken more time to develop their relationship, and therefore delay introducing their partner to their parents. In less developed areas of China, on the other hand, young people generally get married sooner and spend less time making sure their relationship works. For more information on the topic, see “Meeting your Chinese partner’s parents.”


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