China has a long tradition of honoring teachers. Because of such a tradition, students are supposed to behave properly in front of teachers. Don’t know what to expect from the teacher-student relationship in China? This article is your guide to all of the differences in classroom etiquette in China and the West! As a Chinese student who has spent time in both Chinese and American schools, let me share some of my insights.

  1. 1 Class Begins with Bows Between the Teacher and Students

    Classes in China usually begin with bows between the teacher and students. The teachers would say “Class Begins” (“上课” Shàngkè) and “Hello Students” (“同学们好” Tóngxuémen hǎo). Every student would stand up and reply with “Hello Teacher” (“老师好”’ Lǎoshī hǎo).

    Compared to Japan, Chinese people don’t bow as much in the modern-day. But bowing to your teacher is still a standard practice to show respect. While some of my teachers find this ritual redundant and go straight into the content, most of them follow this practice and believe it helps students get into the classroom mode. 

  2. 2 Chinese Students Tend to Listen Quietly

    I experienced a huge difference between the Chinese classrooms and the U.S. ones. Generally speaking, Chinese students are used to listening quietly while teachers are talking at the podium. From a Western perspective, Chinese classrooms may be unusually quiet. 

    The teacher-student relationship in China is more hierarchical than the one in the West because of our deep-rooted Confucian values. Traditionally, teachers are respected as role models and deliverers of knowledge. At the same time, students are expected to be recipients: listen carefully and remain obedient to maintain order and harmony. Students won’t usually talk in the class until the teacher calls on them. And the classes are mostly teacher-led instead of student-focused.  

    Yes, Chinese students are generally quiet in class. However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t ask questions or provide feedback. Compared to classes in the U.S., the Chinese ones are usually comprised of more students. When I was in high school, my class had more than 50 students. Because of the lecture-style of teaching and the class size, many of us found it hard to ask questions during class. We did not want to interrupt the teacher or take time away from other students. But we did not hesitate to ask after class. There’s always a long line for office hours. 

  3. 3 Don’t Leave the Class in the Middle!

    When I started my freshman year at an American college, I was surprised to see people casually leaving in the middle of a class to go to the restroom. Of course, those cases don’t represent all the students in the U.S., but I have rarely seen that behavior in China after kindergarten. Leaving in the middle of class is considered VERY rude and disruptive. 

  4. 4 It’s Not Uncommon for Classes to Run Overtime. Don’t Pack Your Bag Until the Teacher Finishes!

    In Chinese schools, especially middle and high schools, teachers have so many things to cover within 40 minutes. It’s not uncommon for classes to run overtime for a few minutes. Of course, this is not encouraged by the school. In fact, my high school always played loud music one minute after the bell rang to stop teachers from continuing. But regardless of how long the teachers run over, it is impolite to pack your bag before they finish. 

  5. 5 If Your Teachers Don’t Compliment Your Work, Don’t Get Discouraged!

    When I first started school in the U.S., I was overwhelmed by how many compliments my professors gave on work that I knew wasn't perfect. To my surprise, I didn't enjoy being praised so much. I wanted to hear actual suggestions to improve my work rather than simple phrases like “you’re doing great.” To me, it seems that teachers in America try hard to make their students feel encouraged. 

    From my personal experience, teachers in China don’t praise their students as much as Western teachers do. Whenever Chinese teachers talk to you about your work, they heavily emphasize how to improve. Don’t be discouraged! This is probably because of the modesty advocated in the Confucian philosophy. No work is considered perfect and thus can always be better. The teachers don’t want their students to grow complacent about their achievement. 

    Trust me, they do see your improvement and are proud of you. They may also just be less expressive. 

  6. 6 Teacher’s Day is An Important Days for Chinese Schools

    In China, it is common for teachers to teach the same group of students for years. Thus, the bond between teachers and students is strong. Teacher’s Day is always the best occasion for students to show gratitude. Cards, flowers, hand-made crafts and snacks are always the most popular gifts. Sometimes classmates would also raise money together to buy something more expensive. Depending on the school, teachers could get a half-day off while students remain at school to have study sessions.   

    Have you found this etiquette interesting? A lot of it is based on Chinese tradition and values about respecting teachers. How do you celebrate Teacher’s Day? Any gift ideas? Let us know in the comments! 

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Mingsi Ma

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