Dining is also closely related to friendship and interpersonal exchanges. A proverb says “When like minds meet, there can never be too many cups,” or “For congenial friends a thousand toasts are too few.” Weddings, funerals, birthdays, and other celebrations are and have for millennia been occasions in which feasts are held for friends and relatives.
Businesses also have dinners for their staff or clients at a new office launch, for the signing of an agreement, or a year-end party. During these occasions, people propose toasts and chat heartily. Business and family feasts share some common features.
1. There must be more than enough food and drink. Nowadays people tend to order a little less and may take home the leftovers, however quantity remains important. Chinese people like to order more food than the guests are likely to eat. If there is food left over, the guests will feel their host is indeed very hospitable, and the host will feel comfortable that he has organized a perfect feast.
2. It used to be considered polite for the banquet host to use his own chopsticks to place food onto the plates of the guests, and urge the guests to take more food. Nowadays this is considered a little unhygienic, so a better way is to put the most expensive dishes near close to the guests, or for the host to use special serving chopsticks to choose food for the guests.
3. The host also urges the guests to drink more. Banquet guests are encouraged to behave as if they are at home, and a way to do this is for the host to encourage them to eat and drink. Occasionally, guests may even be forced to drink against their will and actually feel some pressure when invited to a banquet. These days better hosts still propose toasts, but try to steer clear of urging their guests to drink excessively.
4. The host normally refills the guest’s drinks. And as he is doing so, the guest should put the cup on the table and rest their hand beside it, to show their gratitude. In some southern cities, the guest taps his or her index and middle finger on the table in order to express gratitude. This custom is said to have originated in the Qing Dynasty.
Emperor Qianlong toured southern China, but wanted to hide his identity from his subjects. In order to achieve this, he wore plain clothes, and instructed his servants not to show public expressions of respect.
One day, he went to a restaurant, and, perhaps wanting to experience life as a common person, poured tea for his servant. This placed the servant in an unusual and uncomfortable position- one he got around by ingeniously crooking his two fingers to represent kowtowing and tapped them on the table, which represented the floor.
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5. Chinese people tend to order dishes in even numbers, for example, four dishes and a soup, four cold dishes and four hot dishes, or four plates and eight bowls. This practice comes from the desire to balance the Yin and Yang, In earlier times, meat and metal utensils were considered to represent Yang.
Because even numbers are thought to represent Yin, even numbers of dishes were needed to balance out Yang. In recent times people have tended to pay less attention to the Yin and Yang of dining formalities, but the practices still remain.
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