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Chinese Taboo


Man filling in questionnaire, close-up of hand
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Learn how to avoid common Chinese taboos.

Chinese Taboo – Numbers:

Good things come in pairs so odd numbers are avoided for birthdays and weddings. However, to avoid bad things happening in pairs, burials and giving gifts to the ill are not held on even numbered days.

Four – the number four (四, ) sounds like death (死, ) so the number four is avoided particularly on phone numbers, license plates and addresses. While addresses do contains fours, the rent is usually less and apartments on the fourth floor are typically rented by foreigners.

Chinese Taboo – at Work:

  • Shopkeepers may opt not to read a book at work because book (書, shū) sounds like lose (輸, shū). Shopkeepers who read may be afraid their businesses will suffer losses
  • When it comes to sweeping, shopkeepers are careful not to sweep toward the door, especially during Chinese New Year, in case good fortune is swept out the front door.
  • Never turn over fish when you are with a fisherman as the motion symbolizes a boat capsizing.
  • Never offer a friend an umbrella because the word umbrella (傘, sǎn) sounds similar to 散 (sàn, to break up) and the act is a sign that you will never see each other again.

Chinese Taboo – Food:

  • Young children should not eat chicken feet as it is believed they might not be able to write well when they start school. They may also be prone to get in fights like roosters.
  • Leaving food on one’s plate, particularly grains of rice, will result in marriage to a spouse with many pockmarks on his or her face or the person will have the wrath of the Thunder god.
  • Chopsticks should not be left standing straight up in a bowl of rice. This act is said to bring bad luck to the restaurant owner as the chopsticks in rice look similar to incense placed in urns at temples when meals are offered to ancestors.

Chinese Taboo - Gifts:

It is a Chinese taboo to give inauspicious gifts: Chinese Gifts to Avoid.
  • Since good things are believed to come in pairs, gifts given in pairs (except four) are best.
  • Do not wrap the gift in white as the colors represents sorrow and poverty.
  • If you give an unlucky gift on accident, the receiver can make it right by giving you a coin which changes the gift to an item they symbolically purchased.

Chinese Taboo – Holiday Taboos:

It is a Chinese taboo to share stories about death and dying and ghost stories during special occasions and holidays.

Several holidays have their own special Chinese taboos.

Chinese New Year:

Examples include:
  • Break
  • Spoil
  • Die
  • Gone
  • Poor

More Chinese New Year Taboos:

  • Nothing should be broken during Chinese New Year. When eating fish, diners must be careful to not break any of the bones.
  • Nothing should be cut during Chinese New Year as one’s life could be cut short. Noodles should not be cut and haircuts should be avoided.
  • Sharp objects like scissors and knives are avoided during Chinese New Year.
  • All windows and doors in the home should be open on New Year’s Eve to send out the old year and welcome the New Year.
  • All debts should be paid by Chinese New Year and nothing should be lent on New Year’s day; otherwise, the person will be paying back debts all year.
  • Don’t cry on New Year’s Day. If you do, it is said you will cry all year.
  • Don’t wash your hair on Chinese New Year Day or you may wash away all your luck.
  • When preparing paper dragons for Chinese New Year, It is taboo for women who are menstruating, people in mourning and babies to be near the dragons when the cloth is being pasted to the dragon’s body.
  • More Chinese New Year Taboos


One long noodle is typically slurped on one’s birthday, but revelers beware. The noodle should not be bitten or cut as this could shorten one’s life.


Fish (魚, ) is a must though it can’t be finished so diners can ensure there is a surplus (餘, ) every year.


  • In the three months leading up to a couple’s wedding, they should avoid going to a funeral or wake, another wedding, or visiting a woman who has just had a baby. If one of the couple’s parents passes away before the wedding, the wedding must be postponed for 100 days or 1,000 days as attending happy celebrations is considered disrespectful to the deceased.
  • No one should sleep on the bridal bed after it has been installed and blessed. If the groom must sleep on the bed before the wedding, he should not sleep alone as leaving one side of the bed empty is considered a curse on the couple’s health. To avoid leaving half of the bed empty, the groom should have a young boy, preferably born in the year of the dragon, accompany him in bed.
  • If a roast pig is given as part of the bride’s gift to the groom’s family, the tail and ears should not be broken. Doing so would mean the bride is not a virgin.

Fifth Lunar Month:

The fifth lunar month is considered an unlucky month. It is a Chinese taboo to dry blankets in the sun and build houses during the fifth lunar month.

Hungry Ghost Festival:

The Hungry Ghost Festival is held during the seventh lunar month. In order to avoid seeing ghosts, people should not go outside at night. Celebrations liked weddings are not held. Fishermen will not launch new boats and many people opt to postpone their trips during the Hungry Ghost Month. Some revelers avoid swimming as the souls of those who die by drowning are considered to be in the greatest turmoil. Some people refuse to go swimming to lessen the chance of a run-in with wayward ghosts.
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