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Offline Albus Dumbledore

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[Background Information] Mahoutokoro Cultural Guide
« on: October 06, 2016, 08:54:57 PM »

« Last Edit: November 05, 2016, 04:56:26 PM by Kurosaki Ryuuji »

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Re: [Background Information] Mahoutokoro Cultural Guide
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2016, 08:58:04 PM »

Please keep in mind that this is a very general overview about Asian cultural values. There are many individuals who deviate from these cultural norms for a wide array of reasons. It is also important to note that with increases in international travel, the values of different cultures and histories can influence the way individuals behave. We don't like to limit creativity, so "nonconforming" and unique characters can certainly exist with a plausible explanation, which is the same system we use for all of MH.

A General Note About Languages
If you're wondering to what extent foreign language words can be used in posts, think about it like you're writing the post as television subtitles, where the purpose is to get the information across to a non-Chinese/Korean/Japanese/ etc audience. We are an English-based RP site, if there is an accurate English word for it, please just use it. Honorifics and titles don't always have straightforward translations (ex: Haha-ue vs honorable mother, certain food names, etc) but in that case romaji will suffice. There should never be a post where a word is written entirely in non-English characters (ex: "I like 林檎"). We're working with other people's cultures and languages and want to be respectful of them.

Collectivist Culture with Emphasis on Family
Asians tend to have a more collectivist mindset and place extremely high importance on family connection and honoring one's ancestors. The "family" in this case can often encompass the immediate family and an extensive network of extended family members. Because of this, independent behavior that may disrupt the harmony of the familial unit is discouraged. The good of the family, of the group, usually will come before the good of the individual and it is considered honorable, or merely expected, depending on the family. One person's success will spread to that of the family, but the same goes for disgrace. An individual will often carry the reputation and honor of their entire family on their back, and this will almost certainly affect the way they make decisions, because what is good for the one is not always good for the family.

The Importance of Hierarchy
As we will touch on later on, the ideas of hierarchy and a stratified society are critical parts of Asian culture. In the context of family, parents define the laws and the children are expected to abide by them without question. A very common expectation is that children will have what is called filial piety, meaning respect for ones parents and elders. This is to cultivate self-control and demonstrate both inner stamina and strength to tolerate pressure in difficult situations. This courtesy extends to people outside of the family, and everyone is expected to respect their elders, be they teachers or older coworkers. Ideally, a subordinate would never disrespect their superior, especially in public. This focus on hierarchy is strongly reflected in the use of honorifics, which will be touched on below.

The Concept of "Face"
The values behind the idea of Face are difficult to translate into western terms because it is not at the forefront of one's mind like it is for many Asian people. The idea of Face is avoiding embarrassment or shame at all cost. There are many ways to deal with Face: one can lose Face, gain Face, or lose Face for another, though the worst thing to be is someone who does not have or care about Face. Just like many Westerners do not like when their self-respect is threatened, Easterners are concerned about losing face, which is the respect of others. This focus on an exterior loci of respect can be contextualized in an individual's terms for this guide, but even then it is difficult to really explain the core concept that drives so many people on the other side of the world. It is considered very bad form to openly criticize, insult, or put anyone on the spot. To lose face is to lose a place in society, which in a collectivist culture, is a grave mistake.

Conservative Public Manners
The importance of Face reflects the generally more conservative nature of the Asian culture compared to Western culture. People are unlikely to show strong emotions like grief, anger, pain, displeasure, or even happiness in public or private. Asians are usually more controlled and measured, with a stoic demeanor that many westerners find difficult to interpret. People in Asia also tend to dress more conservatively, not showing too much skin and usually dressing formally (thought there are certainly exceptions). They also tend to be much quieter in public, such as on trains or in stores.

Food is Life
It doesn't matter where you go in Asia, food is the currency of love within families. Ahjumma and obaasan alike will force-feed their children food and the children will gladly accept it. To give food, especially unique or regional items, is considered a sign of affection. Therefore, it is often rude to decline gifts of food. It's better to enthusiastically eat a plate of badly burned food than let the cook know you don't like it. Sharing meals and drinks (particularly in Korean culture) are great ways to build trust and strong relationships.

Honorifics are short titles used to convey respect and status when referring to another person. Many Asian cultures make extensive use of honorifics in their language and culture, and some of the honorific systems they use are a little complicated. Honorifics can be used to denote occupation, familial relation, or social status, and will often define the degree of relationship between the people speaking. This guide will provide a brief overview of the honorifics most often used in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese culture (in China proper it is mostly reserved for formal settings).

Note: Because there are no western equivalents for many suffix and stand alone honorifics in the English language, these are the types of foreign language words that can certainly appear in posts if the writer wants to incorporate them. Having your character refer to “Minji” as “Minji-san” or “Minji-noona” (Minji older sister) is fine because that is an important aspect of that culture.

Other Quick Notes:
Bowing: Bowing is a common form of greeting and farewell in Asia.
Gift Giving: it is rude to show up to parties or visits empty-handed. Fruits, chocolates, and flowers are good options.

Conflicts and tension:
Given the nature of Mahoutokoro and the diversity within the castle walls, tension between different nationalities is bound to exist. While we would not want to ignore the cultural backgrounds and conflicts between China, Japan, South Korea, as well as Southeast Asia in the last few decades, we are also operating on the assumption that muggle and wizarding affairs are generally divided. The wizarding community in East Asia generally puts magical affairs ahead of racial tensions.

As such, intermarrying between countries is not encouraged unless a detailed and valid background can be provided. Similarly, characters from North Korea should be avoided.

It is up to the individual to decide how integrated or cut off from the muggle world the character is so that these factors can be taken into consideration, but we ask that you use discretion when playing it out. Remember, this is a Harry Potter roleplay and magic should be the centre of focus.

Is this Offensive?
MH is a very supportive community, and the fact that writers are worried about insulting or offending someone on accident is a testament to how great  and thoughtful of a community we have here. For those who are concerned because they are not familiar with Asian culture, hopefully this guide will help you. If your only exposure to Asian culture are movies or TV shows, it can be difficult to tell what is real and what is fictional drama. However, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself:

"Would I do this for a Beauxbatons student or a Durmstrang student?"

Would you randomly add French or Russian words in a post when an English one will do just fine? Depends on the context. Does this sound like something a normal person would do? Or maybe they look too much like a caricature? These are just a few questions you want to ask yourself if you are feeling worried.

We always encourage curious or dedicated drivers to do their own additional research if there is something in particular they want to know about. We also know that writers usually don't go intentionally trying to offend people, and sometimes there are just honest mistakes. Do not be afraid to ask an admin if you're worried or you have any questions. We're here to help and we just want to make MH a more varied, exciting place.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 03:39:35 PM by Gianna Regan »

Offline Albus Dumbledore

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Re: [Background Information] Mahoutokoro Cultural Guide
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2016, 09:10:14 PM »

Location: Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan/East Sea, east of the Korean Peninsula.
Capital: Tokyo
Population: 127,103,388 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: Japanese 99%, others 1% (Korean 511,262, Chinese 244,241, Brazilian 182,232, Filipino 89,851, other 237,914)
Religions: observe both Shinto and Buddhist 84%, other 16% (including Christian 0.7%)


Japanese is the sixth most spoken language in the world, and the main language spoken at Mahoutokoro. It is close in syntax to the Korean language, meaning Korean students will probably pick it up most quickly. Like in many countries, there are different dialects spoken throughout Japan, particularly in Osaka, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Kyoto. Standard Japanese, based on the Tokyo dialect, is the most common.

Japanese technically has four written alphabets for its one language, all of which are used differently. This is the order they are usually taught in to westerners learning the language:

Rōmaji: This is the name of the Latin alphabet used to transcribe and phonetically spell out Japanese. It is not used that often and is mostly just used to teach people how to speak Japanese or when something is intended for an international audience (ex: business cards, brand names, etc). Romaji is also used to write acronyms (ex: NATO) or foreign words.

For example, the phrase "What is NATO?" in Japanese could be written as: NATOは何ですか
With the acronym still written with the Latin alphabet.

Hiragana: Is one of the two Japanese syllabary systems (the other being katakana) used in the Japanese language. Japanese is a syllabary language, where each hiragana or katakana character stands for a sound.

For example, the Japanese word for "cherry blossom" is sakura. The hiragana used here would be さ(sa) く(ku) and ら(ra). So "cherry blossom" written in hiragana would be さくら.

Katakana is the most basic of the Japanese written languages, and many words end up being replaced with their kanji (Chinese character) equivalents for literature. however, hiragana is still used for most grammatical particles and prepositions (ex: in, to, from, by, for). Most children learn from all-hiragana books and slowly move onto books with more and more kanji, usually with the aid of furigana (hirigana written in small text above the kanji if the word is obscure or ambiguous).

Katakana: Is the other of the the two Japanese syllabary systems. Katakana has the exactly same syllable collection (ex: both have ha, he, hu, he, ho and so on for every single sound). Katakana, however, is not used as often as hirigana. Katakana is usually used to transliterate foreign words and names that have no kanji equivalent, like proper nouns (ex: ロンドン, pronounced Ro-n-do-n, meaning "London"), onomatopoeia (ワンワン, pronounced wan-wan, meaning "woof-woof"), and other sound symbolism.

Kanji: Kanji is the alphabet used to write most content words that are native to the Japanese language. It originates from the Chinese character alphabet, and many of the kanji/characters are conserved between both languages. Most nouns, like doctor (医師), tree (木), and school (学校) have kanji equivalents. Kanji is also used as the base/stem of most verbs, adverbs, and adjectives in conjunction with hiragana (ex:  白 [kanji] + い [hiragana] =  白い meaning shiro-i, or "white-colored") (食 [kanji] + べる [hiragana] = taberu or "eating").

One of the reasons reading kanji is so difficult is because written kanji often has different meanings depending on the usage of the word. Many kanji also have more than one possible pronounciation or reading, and some kanji have many. The system is very complicated, and the ambiguity of the kanji presented are the source of many puns and also language nuances in fine Japanese literature.

Japanese makes extensive usage of honorifics, many of which you may already know. They are a critical part of Japanese language and culture, as they are a sign of respect and reflect relative social status.

Suffix honorifics:
    -san: The most commonly used honorific, used for people of the same status or just when you want to be as polite as possible. Students often call each other –san.
    -kun: Used with the first or last name of boy you are familiar with, usually a friend or family member.
    -chan: A general form of familiarity and endearment, often used between girls, but can be applicable to pets and small children regardless of gender.
    -sama: A term of great respect, one step higher than san. Usually used when there is a big difference between the social status of the speaker and the one being spoken to, like the Minister or a client.
    -dono: Like –sama, -dono denotes higher status on the person being addressed, without implying the lower status of the person speaking. It is often used as a way to save face. It is considered a little less respectful than –sama due to the lack of self-humbling. Not commonly used today outside of the military or a slightly archaic surrounding (like Mahoutokoro).
    -pyon: A slang word used to indicate the speaker is being very cutesy or teasing someone.

Honorifics also used as regular/standalone words
    -senpai: Translates to “upperclassman”, “my senior”, or “mentor”, depending on the context. It can be used in academics, clubs, sports, or the workplace. Can be used as a suffix or standalone word.
    -kouhai: The inverse of –senpai, meaning “underclassman” or “my junior”. Technically it’s not an honorific because it isn’t used as suffix, nor should you actually say it someone’s face. It’s more used when referring to one’s junior to a third party.
    -sensei: Used for teachers, doctors, and masters of any profession or art. Usually used for teachers.
    -jiisan: Refers to one’s grandfather, or a much older adult you are already familiar and friends with. A casual version of –jiisan is -jiichan (“gramps”).
    -baasan: Refers to one’s grandmother, or a much older adult you are already familiar and friends with. A casual version of –baasan is -baachan (“granny”).
    -niisan: Refers to one’s older brother, but can also be used for a close older male friend that you consider like an older brother.
    -neesan: Refers to one’s older sister, but can also be used for a close older female friend that you consider like an older sister.

Note: Something you might hear in anime/shows is the usage of the shortened words –nii or –nee at the end of someone’s name to mean older sister or brother. This is not actually used very commonly in the Japanese language, and should be avoided unless your character is purposefully trying to be cute or teasing.


Japan, being an island nation surrounded on all sides by ocean, has a very rich seafood-based diet. The traditional cuisine of Japan (called washoku, 和食) is based on rice and miso soup as a base, with other seasonal side dishes (like pickled vegetables and small grilled fish) with meat dishes. Fish and other seafood are very common fare in Japan, with the seafood most often being fried or grilled. Raw fish (sashimi) are also a common dish.

Daily meal staples include rice and noodles such as udon, ramen, or soba. And, with the increase in international travel, Japan also now has a wide array of very popular western-inspired foods (yōshoku, 洋食), like hanbāgu and curry rice. Mahoutokoro usually serves washoku for breakfast and dinner, and yōshoku for lunch.


Table Manners
Most Japanese restaurants and households eat "family style", meaning large plates of food are set in the middle of the table and each person has their own bowl. They take turns taking from the communal dishes with the back (clean) ends of their chopsticks, usually going in order of age or status.

Before eating, Japanese people say itadakimasu, meaning "I humbly receive this food". After eating, Japanese people say gochisōsama deshita, meaning "thank you for the food". This is done at every meal.
The bathing practices in Japan are very different than they are in the west. Japanese people first wash themselves in the shower, and then soak in the extremely hot bath, or "ofuro". In Japanese homes it is common to share bathwater, meaning one bath is drawn and the whole family bathes one after the other.

In other places, like at Mahoutokoro, students have access to a public bathhouses and onsen (hot springs). In bathhouses and in onsen, it is not unusual to see one's friends naked, and to wear clothing into the bath is very disrespectful. People first change out of their day clothes in gender segregated changing rooms, and then enter the gender-segregated bathhouse where they shower, rinse, and then soak together. It is a place of conversation and relaxation among friends. Unlike bathhouses, which are used for cleaning and relaxing, onsen are very luxurious, the equivalent of going to a spa in the west.

One of the most important clothing rules in Japan is to never wear your shoes when you enter the house. Shoes are to be left in the genkan, a traditional lower entryway at the entrance to most houses and buildings. Once taken off, the shoes should be placed pointing the door for exiting later. Inside, most building will supply indoor slippers, and sometimes a second pair for use when entering the toilet. No shoes (indoor or outdoor shoes) are allowed on tatami floors, as the delicate straw can be ripped up or dirtied very easily. Only bare feet are allowed.

Note: Traditional forms of dress, such as the kimono, are not as prevalent in contemporary Japan anymore except during special events (e.g. shichi-go-san, hinamatsuri, coming of age day etc), celebrations such as weddings, festivals (e.g. during summer festivals where the yukata is commonly worn), and sometimes even funerals. Drivers who are creating halfblood/muggleborn/pureblood characters who do not live in an exclusively wizarding community should take note of this.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 03:32:00 PM by Gianna Regan »

Offline Albus Dumbledore

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Re: [Background Information] Mahoutokoro Cultural Guide
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2016, 04:20:25 PM »

Location: Eastern Asia, between Yellow Sea and East Sea, North of Korea Strait and East China Sea, southern part of Korean Peninsula
Capital: Seoul
Population: 50,423,955 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: Koreans 96.6%, others 3.4% (Chinese 898,654, American 136,663, Vietnam 129,973, Thai 94,314, others 538,014)
Religions: Non-religious 46.5%, Buddhism 22.8%, Protestantism 18.3%, Catholicism 10.9%, others 1.4%


Korean is the official language of Korea, and the third most spoken language after Japanese and Chinese at Mahoutokoro. Korean is also spoken by about 63 million people in South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Grammatically Korean is very similar to Japanese and about 70% of its vocabulary comes from Chinese.

Romaja: Like Japanese Romaji, Romaja is the alphabet used to transliterate Korean into the latin alphabet. There are a number of different ways to transliterate Korean into the latin alphabet. There are two transliteration systems: the McCune-Reischauer system (created in 1937) by two American graduate students, George McCune and Edwin Reischauer (this one is most commonly used in western publications), and the official Revised Romanization of Korean (RR) system (created in 2000). You will see both used on different websites and in different literature, though the latter is more accepted and actually the system used in South Korea.

Hangeul: This is the the native Korean alphabet used in Korean writing for all native Korean words and many others. The Hangeul alphabet is very straight forward, with 24 jamo, or letters. There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in the alphabet, and the different permutations make each syllabic block. Hangeul is interesting because the letters are not combined linearly one after another like in english or in hiragana, but geometrically.

For example, the word "liver" in korean is kan, made of the jamo for the sounds "k" (ㄱ),  "a" (ㅏ), and "n" (ㄴ). Linearly, we would expect the word to be written in a line as: ㄱㅏㄴ (see the sakura example in the Japanese section). However, this is not the case. The jamo are combined onto one space, written as: 간, where you can see the three separate jamo have been combined. The exact rules behind the order of the jamo combinations are more complicated than required for this site and therefore will not be covered.

Hanja: Hanja are Chinese characters adopted and used in Korean language. Chinese was the predominant language spoken in Korea for more and a millennia, until the advent of hangeul to expand the country's language expression ability. Nowadays, hanja is used infrequently in everyday life as they have hangeul equivalents that are more commonly used, though hanja often comes up in revivals of old artistic works from back when it was the main writing system. A working knowledge of hanja is required for those who wish to study classical Korean literature.

In Korean culture, it is rude to call an older person by their first name. Dropping honorific language is common for younger Koreans friends of the same age. Beyond suffixes, there are also variations of words that make up honorific language. For example, instead of "do you want some food (밥)" you would use "do you want to have a meal (진지)". Even the way of saying yes is different; "네 (ne)" and "예 (ye)" both mean yes with "ye" being the more polite form. The honorific system in this case is much more complicated than simply adding a term to a name.

If you are trying to display this difference in your posts, it can be as simple as using more formal language, for example eliminating the use of contractions and slang. Language that sounds too harsh and direct should generally be avoided. Respecting this social hierarchy is crucial in Korea, and not using the proper honorifics/language is deemed as extremely rude, sometimes even to the point of being offensive.

Note: There are different systems of Korean phonetic translation, which can be used interchangeably. That is why you may see differences in the Latin alphabet versions of many words, like “sunbe” vs “seonbae”, both of which are considered correct. For the purpose of this guide, we will provide one spelling, but if you happen to prefer a different spelling version, you can certainly use that instead.

Suffix honorifics
    -shi: For people of equal speech level. It comes after the first name, not the last name (ex: Minji-shi). Using it after a last name (es: Park-shi) is considered rude.
    -gun: Used in the same context as -shi, but only applicable for younger/unmarried men.
    -yang: Used in the same context as -shi, but only applicable for younger/unmarried women. These two terms are not as prevalent as -shi.
    -nim: A formal term used mostly when the person it is directed at is held in high regards/holds a higher position.

Gendered honorifics
Here are some relative terms, and can be used after a first name or by themselves.
If you are a boy, say:
    Nuna: Older sister
    Hyung: Older brother

If you are a girl, say:
    Unni: Older sister
    Oppa: Older brother

Neutral honorifics
    Seonsaeng refers to someone whose profession is unknown, but now it is mostly to refer to teachers and sometimes doctors. Seonsaengnim is the more accurate term as it is considered rude to drop the honorific.

    Sunbae is what you call someone who has entered the academic/work field earlier than you have, and holds a senior position. In this case, age has nothing to do with experience and seniority. Sunbae should only be used when you're close with the senior, and it is used as a stand-alone term; sunbaenim is the formal term.

    Hoobae is the term for junior, but more often than not it is not used to address someone directly. "This is my hoobae, so-and-so" or "Hoobae, come over here" are some ways it can be used.

    Dongsaeng is also what you refer to juniors out of a professional context, as well as younger siblings. It is used similarly to hoobae, but it can be seen as more of an endearing term.

    Maknae refers to the youngest person in a family or social group. Sometimes the first name is dropped, and he or she is just addressed as maknae.


Like Japan, the Korean peninsula is surrounded on many sides by ocean and seafood plays a prominent role in food. One of the main characteristics of Korean food is its spiciness, which comes from many sources, though usually from gochujang. Gochujang is a savory and spicy condiment made from red chilli, fermented soybean paste, and other spices. It often lends Korean food its famous bright red color. Many of the characteristic flavor profiles of Korean food come from chili pepper, green onion, soy sauce, soy bean paste, garlic, ginger, sesame, mustard, vinegar, and rice wine vinegar.

Korean food is generally considered quite healthy. Many popular dishes are either in the from of soups and broths, grilled, or raw/pickled. Some of the most common Korean dishes include ginseng chicken, bibimbap, kimbap, jajangmyeon, bulgogi, and tteokbokki. Stir-fries are popular as well, especially japchae, which is sweet potato noodles and vegetables. Desserts are very often made from glutinous rice or rice powder, and prepared in different ways, for example steaming or frying. Fillings of red bean paste are usually sweet, and quite heavy on its own.

Another notable aspect of Korean cuisine are all of side dishes (반찬; banchan) that are provided with each meal. Among these side dishes are rice, soup, legumes, and, most famously: kimchi. Kimchi is perhaps the most well know Korean food and one of Korea's national dishes. The most common/well-known ingredient is cabbage, but there are hundreds of varieties of kimchi available, with many different preparation methods.


Bowing is the general way Koreans greet one another. Handshakes can occur between men, but most likely not in the first meeting. Juniors should avoid direct eye contact when greeting seniors because it can be seen as impolite, or an indirect challenge.

Touching is considered a personal violation when it is by someone who is not a relative or close friend. It is uncommon for strangers to touch each other casually, and is thus considered very significant if someone allows you to pat them on the back or hug them, as it is a sign of closeness. Distant friends and new acquaintances rarely touch each other until the relationship has grown more.

In small talk, a common topic which will often be brought up is the year that someone is born in. This helps determine whether honorifics should be used. For same-age friends, honorifics can be dropped, but certain informal language should only be used between close friends. In the event if you are uncertain if it is alright to use informal language, it is better to ask or tell the other person you are conversing with that you are going to do so to avoid being seen as rude.

Unlike in Japan or China, Koreans never raise the bowls to their mouths when they eat. Also, because the utensils they use are often made from stainless steel as opposed to wood or plastic, the chopsticks and spoons are never to roughly touch the bowl or plate, as they make a loud clanging noise.

As with Chinese and Japanese customs, shoes should not be worn inside the house, but to be left at the entrance pointing towards the door for ease of access. During traditional holidays such as Chuseok, it is common for Koreans who mostly adapt modern fashion to wear traditional Korean dress. Hanbok is typically worn, but chima (skirt) and jeogori (short jacket) for women, as well as magoja (long jacket) over hanbok and jeogori for men can be worn as well.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2016, 02:10:00 AM by Gianna Regan »

Offline Albus Dumbledore

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Re: [Background Information] Mahoutokoro Cultural Guide
« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2016, 02:57:05 PM »

Location: Eastern Asia, west of Yellow Sea and East China Sea, bordering 14 countries (Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), India, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, and North Korea)
Capital: Beijing
Population: 1,376,049,000 (2015 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: Han Chinese 91.5%, Indigenous ethnic minorities 8.5% (foreigners include South Korean 120,750, American 71,493, Japanese 66,159, other 335,430)
Religions: Believes/practices some kind of folk religion and Taoism 80%, Buddhism 10-16%, Christians 2-4%, Muslims 1-2%


Standard Chinese is the official language of China and the most widely spoken language in the world. (There are many different kinds of dialect groups and Mandarin dialects that this guide will not cover in detail, so Chinese language in this guide will almost always be referring to Standard Chinese unless otherwise specified.) It will be relatively easier for Chinese students to pick up Japanese or Korean due to the similarities in grammar and syntax in comparison to English.

Written Chinese has gone through much evolution over the span of centuries, resulting in the current written form looking almost nothing like the original pictograms it was derived from. For beginners and young children, pin yin is normally taught before learning how to write the actual characters.

Pin yin (拼音): Chinese is a tonal language, and many monosyllabic words are differentiated solely through tone. The four main tones are ā á â à; the strokes represent the rising and falling of pitch in pronunciation and are only written above vowels. Pin yin is especially useful for someone first learning how to read and pronounce words, but it is not widely used other than that. It is also the main form of romanization of Chinese words. Romanzations, unlike pin yin, are written without the tones.
Han zi (汉字): What is known today as Modern or Standard Chinese has been in use since the early to mid 1900s, rendering Old, Middle, and Classical Chinese outdated and limited to written literary texts. Standard Chinese is typically written in two ways- Simplified and Traditional. The two are not mixed with the exception of some words that do not have a simplified form. China uses Simplified Chinese, and Taiwan (and to a certain extent Hong Kong) uses Traditional Chinese, with slight variations in pronunciation.

Chinese characters are logograms, which means that each written character represents a word. A key feature of Chinese characters is the use of radicals. Radicals can help not only to differentiate genders, but also gives certain attributes to the character. For example; "him" and "her" are both pronounced as in Chinese, but the written forms are 他 and 她. The radicals on the left of the character denotes the gender of the term. Hence, words with the 女 radical, which literally translates to female, are found in many words relating to the female gender, even the word "mother", which is written as "妈". Depending on the word itself, the radical can be found anywhere, not just to the side of the character.

Unlike English, where letters of the alphabet form words that look extremely different with (mostly) different pronunciation, it is very difficult to understand Chinese just by reading the pin yin or romanization. There are hundreds of words with the same pronunciation that can only be differentiated by looking at the Chinese characters. At the same time, there are also many words which have more than one pronunciation and meaning. It is due to this ambiguity, even in written forms, which makes Chinese such a difficult language to master.
Note: For the romanization of Chinese characters this guide introduces a space between two characters (e.g. pin yin instead of pinyin) to clearly mark out two distinct words. Normally in Asian countries the space does not matter as it does not make a huge difference either way.

Unlike in Japanese and Korean, honorifics do not feature heavily in Chinese. However, there are some words that can be used to sound more respectful. When speaking to elders or even strangers, it is polite to use 您 (nín), which has the meaning of "you who are cherished" instead of 你 (nî), which just means "you". When asking a question, sometimes the word 贵 (guì), which means something of value, is added before the subject of the question. It is most commonly used before age and surname, for example "您贵姓?" (nín guì xìng), which roughly means "What is your honorable surname?". For this sentence to be completely formal and polite, the words 请问 (qîng wèn) have to be added before it. Depending on the situation, 请 has either the meaning of an invitation or request, and 问 simply means to ask.

Most forms of Chinese honorifics are considered extremely archaic. They have fallen out of use in daily life, and can only be found in classical literary texts, historical records, or contemporary novels depicting a certain era. It is more common and polite to add a title behind someone's surname, especially to show respect to someone of a certain profession, or in a higher position. For example, a teacher would be addressed as (surname) 老师 (lâo shī), which would be "(surname) teacher" if translated directly into English.

Suffix honorifics
    -xian sheng: Used mainly to mean sir, but it can also refer to someone in a profession, as it used to be the term for "teacher".
    -nü shi: Used mainly to mean madam, often someone of at least middle age.
    -qian bei: While this term usually refers to someone older or more senior in your profession, but it can also refer to an alumni who graduated from the same school much earlier than you have. This is a semi-formal term, as it still denotes personal ties; for a higher-up who you have no personal relations with you would normally just address them with the surname followed by the title they hold.
    -xue zhang: This term is used to address someone who is in a higher grade than you are in school. It is a unisex term, and can be used as a standalone term or after someone's given name.

    -er: Not exactly an honorific, this suffix is normally used as a term of affection for someone younger as its literal meaning is "son" (in Chinese characters, daughter is written as "female son"). A word from the given name (if there are two characters, which is the norm) is chosen to combine with -er, which will serve as a nickname for the individual's parents and other family members.
    -ge: This suffix means "older brother", and follows either the full given name, surname, or one word from the given name that is more commonly associated with the individual if there are two. It can also be used as a standalone term, as in "ge" or "ge ge".
    -di: This suffix means "younger brother", and follows either the full given name, surname, or one word from the given name that is more commonly associated with the individual if there are two. It can also be used as a standalone term, as in "di" or "di di".
    -jie: This suffix means "older sister", and follows either the full given name, surname, or one word from the given name that is more commonly associated with the individual if there are two. It can also be used as a standalone term, as in "jie" or "jie jie".
    -mei: his suffix means "younger sister", and follows either the full given name, surname, or one word from the given name that is more commonly associated with the individual if there are two. It can also be used as a standalone term, as in "mei" or "mei mei".

    Note: Suffixes and titles almost always follow someone's surname out of school, which is a more relaxed environment. It is important to take pride in one's surname and family, and addressing someone by their given name is not thought of as polite, especially for strangers and acquaintances.


Food is an extremely important part of Chinese culture, so much so that the term 民以食为天, which means food is the most important to people. When it comes to Chinese food, dumplings, kung pao chicken, and fried rice/noodles may first come to mind, but food in China is extremely diverse. Chinese dishes from each area were devised based on geographical location, weather, ethnic population, local produce and so on; what is considered quintessential and representative for one area might be completely different from another. On a more general term, the North and South parts of China see the most difference. The North is known for alcohol, meat, and flour based foods due to the cold, whereas the South is known for milder and sweeter flavours, and rice-based foods.

Another form of classification often divides Chinese food into the four or eight traditional cuisine styles, and there are many restaurants that specialise in these cuisines. What someone is used to eating still depends on the region they are from; even the same kind of food can be consumed in different ways depending on the area. A typical family in China will have a staple food such as rice or noodles during lunch and dinner, with at least three other kinds of accompanying vegetable/meat dishes and a soup. Breakfast varies depending on the household, but bread, congee, side dishes such as pickles, and sometimes fried rice are quite common. Tea is normally drank before and after the meal.


General rules
Respect elders, care for young children, and be polite to strangers. There are not many strict interpersonal rules when it comes to Chinese etiquette, but most Chinese people remember these three points as a universal rule. Putting others before yourself is a virtue that is highly sought after in Chinese society. Non-verbal communication is also an important part of etiquette, as hand gestures and facial expressions often speak volumes.

Table Manners
As a culture that honours the elders, no one at the table is allowed to start eating until the head of the family (usually the grandfather for a large family) starts. Young children should not fidget in their seat or bang on utensils with chopsticks, which is impolite and reflects poorly on their parents. Chopsticks should be held so that the ends are even, and under no circumstances should they be sticking upright out of a bowl of rice, as it is seen as an offering for the deceased. Both hands should be visible at all times during the meal, and the hand not holding chopsticks should be picking up the bowl or simply resting it on the tabletop. It is impolite to pick around and "search" for what you want to eat in a communal meal, and stuffing your mouth full of food is frowned upon. Conversation is encouraged, but one should not speak and eat/chew at the same time.

Restaurant etiquette
Food is incredibly important, and to many, inviting someone to eat in a restaurant is a chance for the relationship to grow, as well as being a bonding moment among family members. One must not be stingy when ordering food, so it is good to have leftovers; the general rule of thumb is that there must be one dish ordered for each person dining and one extra to enure there is enough to go around. Most restaurants have round table with a Lazy Susan in the middle, and dishes served in order are placed on the Lazy Susan at all times.

There will be a communal spoon or chopsticks to transfer food into your own bowl, and it is important to remember not to take too much at one time or to move the Lazy Susan when someone else is in the middle of taking food. When asked about seconds or taking the last serving of a dish it's polite to refuse and give choosing rights to the person who offered in the first place. Drinks should always be poured for others first before moving on to yourself. Water and tea can be sipped on, but alcoholic beverages (or a symbolic drink to substitute alcohol) should not be consumed until someone makes a toast.

Modern Chinese society has fully adapted what can be considered as "Western" garb, with traditional styles of clothing falling out of fashion. The qi pao, or cheongsam, is seen as the representative traditional dress for Chinese people. It is no longer customary or compulsory to wear qipao, not even during important holidays, but there has been a renewed interest in the qipao in the recent decade, especially modernised versions. Ethnic minorities who still live in villages, however, still wear traditional clothing on important occasions. No matter what is worn, it is important to be neat and presentable, as first impressions are very important.

Gift giving
When giving gifts, it is crucial to keep the recipient in mind. Never give an elder a clock; in Chinese the word "clock" has the same sound as "end", so giving an older person a clock or watch can be interpreted as sending them to their end, which is highly disrespectful. Do not gift something sharp, like scissors or knives, as they are symbolic of severing a relationship. Chrysanthemums are used to remember the deceased in funerals, so they should not be given as a gift. During Lunar New Year, it is customary for adults (generally anyone who's married) to give the younger members of the family red packets filled with money. In that situation, or any situation where money is involved, it should be a whole number, or ending with the number eight. Four of anything is thought to be unlucky as "four" sounds similar to "death", whereas eight of anything is desirable as "eight" sounds similar to "gain", commonly in wealth or luck.