Daily Manners: The Essentials of Courtesy

by Professor Li Bing-nan

A Dharma Realm Virtue Studies Text for Young People

Provisional Translation by the International Translation Institute, 1991
  1. At Home

1. A good child should get up early and tidy up clothes and bedding by himself or herself. Be sure to wake your parents up in the morning and see that they are secure in the evening.

2. A good child won¹t take the middle seat while in the company of his parents, nor walk in the middle of the sidewalk in front of them.

3. A good son or daughter tells his parents when he is going out, and informs them in person when he returns home.

4. If someone older gives you a gift, receive it respectfully with both hands.

5. Walk slowly and behind when walking with someone older than you, not rapidly and in front of them.

6. If an elder stands up, avoid sitting down; and rise to greet him when he arrives.

7. Avoid squatting down or hopping about in front of an older person who is sitting down.

8. Avoid standing so that you block the center of the doorway, and never step on the threshold as you enter. (this refers to old-style Chinese door frames in houses and temples).

9. When standing, stand on both feet, when sitting, avoid sticking your legs out (like a Chinese dustpan). When sleeping, don¹t lie on your stomach or back, but rest instead on your right side, like a bow.

10. When eating at the dinner-table with the family or group, don¹t eat from a private or specially prepared dish of treats.

11. Avoid discussing the good and bad flavor of the foods.

12. At meal time, neither praise nor scold your children or siblings.

2) At School

1. Stand straight and show respect each time you salute the country¹s flag, sing the national anthem, or sing the school¹s song.

2. Each time the teacher enters or leaves the classroom, stand and greet him or her respectfully.

3. Stand up first before you ask your teacher a question or discuss a point of his instructions.

4. When you meet your teacher walking on the sidewalk, respectfully stand to one side and wait until he passes before you continue.

5. While listening to lectures, sit erect in your chair or stand straight. Avoid propping up your chin on your hand, leaning to one side, slouching, or crossing your legs.

6. During tests, don¹t whisper to your neighbors, or stare around the room at others.

7. Find peace in your studies, find kinship in your teachers, find delight in friendship with your classmates, and trust in the Path of Study.

3) Common Courtesy

1. Avoid discussing others¹ shortcomings, and don¹t brag about your strengths.

2. It is a mistake to talk about your family¹s personal problems in a public place.

3. The mouth is the source of disasters and calamities. Consider your words very carefully before you speak them.

4. When you come across someone who has met disappointment, avoid talking to him about success stories. When you meet an elderly person, don¹t discuss old age and death.

5. With casual, acquaintances, don¹t discuss profound topics. When quitting a relationship, avoid talking harshly.

6. Don¹t insult others with your words, and avoid making jokes about people.

7. When you meet crippled or sick people, your tone must be more solemn.

8. Don¹t haggle for sharp bargains with peddlers who have to transport and sell the goods they make or grow themselves.

9. When you are kind to people, don¹t dwell on your gift; when you receive others¹ kindness, you must repay it. If you wrong someone, you must find him and make up for your error; when someone wrongs you, you ought to forgive him.

10. You ought to know by yourself to draw near good people, and you must respect them always; you may respect evil people, but stay far away from them.

11. You should handle coolly and efficiently all business that comes your way. You should recognize things that are beyond your ability, and avoid over-estimating your strength.

12. Avoid putting on your boots in the vegetable fields and paddies; avoid setting your hat straight beneath the plum trees.

13. Everything that you do must accord with reason and wisdom; avoid extremes of emotion.

14. Never do unto others what you yourself don¹t want done to you.

15. Whenever you seek instructions from others, you must first go in person and ask their advice.

4) At Meals.

1. Observe an order when you take your seat. You must leave the seat of honor for the oldest person present.

2. Once you sit down, do not lean your elbows on the table, and don¹t stick out your feet.

3. The host first offers a respectful toast to the guests, and the guests, must acknowledge, say thank you, and offer an appropriate reply.

4. If the host has cooked the meal in person, the guest must first acknowledge it, offer thanks, and only then begin to eat.

5. After the host makes a formal toast, a proper guest will return the host¹s courtesy and offer up his own toast.

6. Before the host picks up his chopsticks or fork to begin, he first invites everyone to join in the meal together.

7. When you reach for a bite of food from the serving platters, reach only to the platters directly in front of you. Avoid standing up and stretching across the table for the food set in the corners out of reach.

8. When helping yourself from platters and bowls, avoid taking your portions from the center or the top of the servings.

9. Avoid shoving aside the public utensils with your own chopsticks or spoon.

10. If your spoon has a bit of juice or particles of food left on it, make sure you wipe it clean before putting it back into the public platters.

11. Never put uneaten food from your own plate back into the public platters.

12. Avoid sharing with other people food that you have already touched with your own chopsticks or spoon.

13. While you eat, avoid making noise with your tongue, or gulping or swallowing noisily.

14. Eating in silence is a good rule, but if you have something to say, never spit or cough into the food platters.

15. If you must cough, be sure to turn away from the center of the table before you do.

16. Never feed the dog or pets at the table, and don¹t toss them bones to chew on during the meal.

17. Don¹t leave even a single grain of rice in your bowl.

18. Don¹t pick your teeth right in front of others.

19. The host should not stand up until the guests have all finished their meal.

20. At the close of the meal, the host invites the guests to stay longer and enjoy the hospitality; the guest must thank him.

21. After the meal, the host offers tea and napkins.

5) In Public

1. Don't worry about the appearance of your clothing and hat, it is enough if they are clean and neat.

2. When you meet someone senior to you, you must be very respectful.

3. When standing on high places, do not shout, gesture about, or call to others.

4. While walking on the road, avoid smoking, eating, and singing.

5. When riding in a vehicle if you meet someone older than you, it is proper to stop and get out; when you meet someone younger than you, you must greet them with a friendly gesture.

6. Return home after dark. If business demands that you stay out late, be sure to notify your family.

7. If your horse or vehicle is tethered in a shabby or dangerous district, you should neither greet people or exchange normal courtesies.

8. Avoid standing by the roadside and talking at great length.

9. Avoid walking in the middle of the road, Look carefully left and right before crossing a road, and never fight for the right of way with automobiles.

10. As you walk, keep your steps even and firm, it is right to throw your shoulders back and close your mouth, and keep your eyes looking straight forward.

11. Give up your place on the road , and yield your seat to women with children, to the elderly, and to the weak.

12. Always give detailed directions to those who ask for them; if you ask others for directions, be sure to say thank you and follow their guidance.

13. A person alone should not enter an old temple; two people together should not peer into a deep well.

14. Dismount from a horse first before crossing a bridge; don¹t insist on first place when you ford a river on a ferry-boat.

15. On board a boat, in a car, or on an airplane, never stick your hands or head out a window, and do not casually spit anywhere you please.

6) When Visiting

1. Stand outside and gently and quietly knock at the door. Enter only after the host admits you.

2. If there are other guests already present, the host introduces them all around. You should make a full bow with complete courtesy to each person. And do the same when you take your leave.

3. When you see that there are other guests present, inside, you must not sit for a long time, If you have important business to take care of, you should ask the host to pay you special attention.

4. If you see that other guests have arrived while you are in the middle of a conversation, you should make your good-byes and leave.

5. Sit or stand erect and properly, do not listen while slouching crookedly, or laugh uproariously.

6. Do not bring all kinds of pets or animals into the house with you.

7. You may not look at your hosts¹ letters or mail

8. If you are talking and it is time to answer, you must look at the person you are speaking to.

9. Before you enter a room, make a noise to announce your presence to anyone who might be inside.

10. Leave the door ajar if you find it ajar, and closed if you find it closed. The last person in should close it behind him .

11. If the host stretches or yawns, or looks at his wrist watch, you must say good-bye and leave.

12. Avoid visiting people at mealtimes or when it is time to sleep.

13. When paying your respects to seniors, officials, noblemen or the elderly, you should first pay your respects by bowing, and only then take a seat. Do the same when you leave.

14. When shaking hands with seniors, officials, noblemen or the elderly, as well as with women, you should wait until they first extend their hand to shake, and only then respectfully follow suit.

15. When paying a visit to public servants, teachers, or officials, you should first determine what time they must go to work or to class, you may not sit and chat forever.

16. If you pay a call on someone whom you don¹t find at home when you get there, you can leave your calling card, or write a note, or leave a message with someone.

7) Hosting Guests

1. When you see a guest, show your respect, and if he is an old friend, then greet him with his name; if he is a stranger, then ask him his surname, and where he comes from.

2. When you reach the door, hurry ahead and open it for your guest, and invite him to enter first. .

3. Let the guest enter every door before you do.

4. Inside your house, you must make your guest comfortable on a prepared seat.

5. If there is already another guest in your sitting room, you should introduce the new guest, in this order: Introduce younger ones to elders, and lower status people to higher status, those who live nearby get introduced to those who have come from afar; and among those of the same status, introduce the younger ones to the elders.

6. When serving tea and snacks (fruit), serve the elder guests before serving those younger, and serve strangers before you serve friends.

7. The host must stand up and lift his teacup in invitation to his guests to begin.

8. When guests leave, you must see them off with full ceremony; if they live far away, see them off to the edge of town, or to the highway entrance.

9. If guests have come from far away to stay with you, prepare food, drink, bedding, and lodging; show them the location of the toilet and the shower facilities

10. When guests from afar are departing, you must send them to the station or airport, and watch their train or car as it goes, and don¹t leave until it has vanished in the distance.

8) When Traveling

1. If you are making a long journey, just before leaving you must say good-bye to your family and friends and make an offering to your ancestors at the family altar.

2. When you arrive at a far-away destination, the first thing to do is pay your respects and announce your arrival to the person in charge.

3. When you return home, announce your arrival to your family and friends, or give them a small souvenir from the place you visited.

4. If family members or friends tell you they are about to go on a long trip, you should go see them off, and before their journey begins, send them a gift or invite them to a meal.

5. When a guest from afar comes to pay his respects, you must welcome him and return his courtesies, or else invite him to a meal and receive him formally.

6. When a traveler returns home and comes to pay his respects, you must welcome him and return his courtesies, and invite him to a meal and to refresh himself from the toils of travel.

7. If you receive others¹ send-off or a farewell party, when you get to your destination, you must acknowledge each and every instance with a written thank-you note.

8. When people invite you to a welcome banquet or to a returning home celebration, you must respond with a similar invitation.

9. When you arrive in a new place, ask about their laws and rules; in a foreign country, ask about their customs; in a strange house-hold, ask about their taboos.

10. When you enter a new country, do not drive fast. When you enter a small village, you must slow down.

9) In a Group of People

1. Don¹t interrupt when people are involved in a conversation.

2. Don¹t walk between two people who are holding a conversation.

3. Don¹t yell or shout in a loud voice that could disturb others and distract their attention.

4. Don¹t sit sideways; don¹t cross your legs; don¹t rub your feet.

5. Don¹t carry on a conversation with a person sitting two seats away from you.

6. When sitting, avoid tipping back on the hind legs of the chair or bench.

7. Never put your clothing or hat on top of others¹ clothing or hat.

8. Never spit water or phlegm at other people.

9. Avoid yawning, stretching, or sneezing in front of other people.

10) When Giving Gifts

1. Courtesy requires reciprocity: if someone visits you and you don¹t return the call, or if you visit someone and they don¹t repay the courtesy, both mistakes are considered as bad manners.

2. When you receive a gift from someone, do not say that you will come to get it. When you give gifts to someone, don¹t ask them if they want it.

3. When you give gifts to others you should be completely humble and sincere.

4. When you give gifts to others, be sure to first wrap it up nicely. The exceptions to this rule are when coming to a wedding, when bringing condolences at a funeral, or when congratulating an elder on his birthday.

5. When giving ordinary gifts and there are other guests present, avoid doing so where they can see or hear your exchange, unless you have come from far away or the person receiving it is a stranger, in which case giving a gift in public is permissible.

6. When receiving a gift, you should first politely refuse it, and only accept it later on, and say thank you.. On a later date you must return to express your gratitude formally.

7. When an elder gives you something you may not refuse it.

11) At Festivities and Funerals

1. If you are attending an auspicious celebration (birthdays, the birth of a child, or weddings), you may not talk about old age, or of death¹s approach. It is wrong at such times to show a sad face, or to cry.

2. When in a period of mourning, do not attend auspicious celebrations, but you should send a gift anyway.

3. Avoid going into a public building while wearing mourning clothes, and do not look at others¹ wedding celebrations.

4. When congratulating a couple on their wedding in front of the other wedding guests, your words must never be cruel or harsh.

5. Never laugh at a funeral.

6. If someone in the neighborhood is mourning a death, do not sing where they can hear you.

7. When you eat a meal at the home of someone who is mourning the death of a relative, do not drink until intoxicated.

8. If you are a pall bearer or you have an official role at a funeral, do not leave until the ceremonies are over. Be sure to change your funeral attire before you attend other ceremonies.