Sociology Index

Social Customs And Traditions In China

Social Customs And Traditions

Chinese Family Customs And Traditions

In China, birthdays are not commonly celebrated, although city dwellers do so more frequently than their country cousins, and children and old people more than you and middle-aged people. No special ceremony is occasioned by a birthday. Many people like to eat "longevity noodles," symbols of long life inspired by the noodle's shape. In officially atheist China 31 percent of its population say they are atheists.

According to the Marriage Law in China, a man may legally marry at age 22 and a woman at 20, by acquiring a marriage license issued by a marriage registration office, thus a wedding ceremony is not a necessary legal procedure for marriage registration, but only a way for relatives and friends to congratulate the bride and groom. The newlyweds will offer "wedding candies" to their colleagues and friends. In return, their colleagues and friends will present the newlyweds with gifts.

Funeral ceremonies in China are very simple. Usually, a memorial meeting is held to pay last respects to the deceased and allow the living to express their grief. Cremation is the rule in cities, and interment in rural areas. White is the traditional color of mourning, but city people nowadays usually wear black gauze armbands to show their bereavement.

China's different people have developed individual customs regarding food, clothing and housing, in response to their own particular environments and social conditions. Generally, the Chinese Han people take rice and noodles as their staple diet, love to eat vegetables, beans, meat, fish and eggs, and pay particular attention to cooking techniques. Mongolians often eat beef and mutton, and drink tea with milk.

Tibetans take tsampa (roasted barley flour) as their staple food, and drink buttered tea, and highland barley wine, but Tibetan herdsmen mainly eat beef and mutton. The Uygurs, Kazaks, and Ozbeks enjoy roast mutton kebabs, unleavened bread and rice. Koreans like sticky rice cakes, cold noodles and kimchi (spicy, pickled vegetables). The Ling, Ji, Dai, Blang and Hani all chew betel nuts.

The typical costume of Chinese Manchu women used to be the qipao, a close fitting dress with high neck and slit skirt. Mongolians wear their traditional robes and riding boots. The Tibetans in China love to wear Tibetan robes, waistbands and boots. Koreans are known for their boat shaped shoes. Uygurs wear diamond-shaped embroidered skullcaps. Yi, Mao and Yao women wear pleated shirts and are often bedecked with gold or silver ornaments.

Courtyard-type dwellings were traditionally the rule in Han areas. Most minority herdsmen living in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai and Gansu live in yurts. The Dais, Zhuangs and Bouyeis in southern China often live in ganlan (multiple storied houses raised on stilts).

Society Celebrations in China

Legal holidays in China are New Year (January 1st), a national one-day holiday; Spring Festival (New Year by the lunar calendar), a national three-day holiday; International Working Women's Day (March 8th); Tree Planting Day (March 12th); International Labor Day (May 1st), a national one-day holiday; Chinese Youth Festival (May 4th); International Children's Day (June 1st); Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) (August 1st); Teacher's Day (September 10th); and National Day (October 1st), a national two-day holiday.

China's major traditional festivals include the Spring Day Festival, the Lantern Festival, Pure Brightness Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Double Ninth Festival. Ethnic minorities have also retained their own traditional festivals, including the Water Sprinkling Festival of the Dai people, the Nadam Fair of the Mongolian people, the Torch Festival of the Yi people, the Danu (Never Forget the Past) Festival of the Yao people, the Third Month Fair of the Bai people, the Antiphonal Singing Day of the Zhuang people, the Tibetan New Year and Onghor (Expecting a Good Harvest) Festival of the Tibetan people, and the Jumping Flower Festival of the Miao people.


Each year, when winter is at its end and spring around the corner, people throughout China enthusiastically celebrate the first traditional holiday of the year, the Spring Festival. In the past, when the Chinese people used the lunar calendar, the Spring Festival was known as the "New Year." It falls on the first day of the first lunar month, the beginning of a new year. After the Revolution of 1911, China adopted the Gregorian calendar.

To distinguish the lunar New Year from the New Year by the Gregorian calendar, the lunar New Year was called the Spring Festival (which generally falls between the last 10-day period of January and mid-February). The evening before the Spring Festival, the lunar New Year's Eve, is an important time for family reunions. The whole family gets together for a sumptuous dinner, followed by an evening of pleasant talk or games.

Some families in China stay up all night, "seeing the year out." The next morning, people pay New Year calls on relatives and friends, wishing each other good luck. During the Spring Festival, various traditional recreation activities are enjoyed in many parts of China, notably lion dances, dragon lantern dances, land-boat rowing and stilt-walking.


The Lantern Festival falls on the15th day of the first lunar month, the night of the first full moon after the Spring Festival. Traditionally, people eat sweet dumplings during this festival. Sweet dumplings, round balls of glutinous rice flour with sugar filling, symbolize reunion. During the festival people display multicolored lanterns on the street and courtyards, and stroll around admiring them at night, hence the name "Lantern Festival."
Pure Brightness Day falls around April 5th every year. Traditionally, this is an occasion for people to offer sacrifices to their ancestors. In recent years, many people have also been going to the tombs of the revolutionary martyrs to pay their respects. At this time of year the weather has begun to turn warm, and the earth is once again covered with green. People live to go to the outskirts of cities to walk on the grass, fly kites and appreciate the beauty of spring. That is why Pure Brightness Day is sometimes also called "Walking amid Greenery Day."

It is generally believed that this festival originated to honor the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who lived in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period. In despair at not being able to halt the decline of his country, he drowned himself in the Miluo River in modern Hunan Province on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month after the capital of Chu fell to the State of Qin.

Legend has it that after Qu Yuan's death people living on the banks of the river went out in their boats to try to find the corpse. Every year thereafter, on this day people would row their boats out onto their local river, throwing sections of bamboo filled with rice into the water as an offering to him. Today, the memory of Qu Yuan lives on, zongzi remains the traditional food and dragon-boat races are held.

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eight lunar month, which comes right in the middle of autumn, hence its name. In ancient times, people would offer elaborate cakes as sacrifices to the Moon Goddess on this day. After the ceremony, the family would enjoy sitting together to eat the pastries. The festival came to symbolize family reunion, and the custom has been passed down to today. On this mid-autumn night the full moon is especially bright.

This festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. According to Chinese tradition, the ninth day is an auspicious day; and the ninth day of the ninth lunar month is the most auspicious day. On this day, the Chinese people customarily ascend a hill, eat cakes, drink wine and admire chrysanthemums. Since the lake 1980s, the Double Ninth Festival has become a festival for old people.