Proper Manners Begin at the Dining Table


China is a nation that very much values rituals and good manners. It isn’t surprising therefore that the very origin of rites regarding manners arose from the Chinese ancestors’ dietary behaviors. In the Book of Rites, a classic of the Confucian canon, it is clearly written that proper manners were born out of the standardization of eating activities. Confucius, a record keeper and retransmitter of the theology and values of the Zhou Dynasty, propagated his teachings not only in the classroom, but also at the dining table. According to him, there was a close relationship between the culinary art with a set of standard behaviors that he promoted, practiced, and recorded in the many ancient books that he collated.

Rules and manners practiced up to today

In the chapter “Rules of Propriety” from the Book of Rites, one excerpted section recorded these rules, which are still being learned and practiced by modern people:

When eating together, don’t just care about your own stomach
Check if your hands are clean when you eat with someone
Don’t rub rice into a ball with your hand
Don’t put too much rice into your bowl
Don’t spill when you drink
Don’t make sounds when you eat
Don’t gnaw bones
Don’t put back food that you have bitten
Don’t throw bones to dogs
Don’t monopolize food
Don’t winnow your rice
When eating steamed millet, use hands but not chopsticks
Don’t gulp your soup
Don’t season your soup in front of the host
Don’t pick your teeth in public
As you may have noticed. Many of these manners, though they may be centuries old, are still very applicable today.





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