c. 50 BC | China


Minding your manners at a Chinese dinner.

The rules for bringing in the dishes for an entertainment are the following: the meat cooked on the bones is set on the left and the sliced meat on the right; the rice is placed on the left of the parties on the mat and the soup on their right; the minced and roasted meat are put outside the chops and sliced meat and the pickles and sauces inside; the onions and steamed onions succeed to these, and the drink and syrups are on the right. When slices of dried and spiced meat are put down, they are folded to the left, and the ends of them to the right. If a guest is of lower rank than his entertainer, he should take up the rice, rise, and decline the honor he is receiving. The host then rises and refuses to allow the guest to retire. After this the guest will resume his seat. When the host leads on the guests to present an offering to the father of cookery, they will begin with the dishes which were first brought in. Going on from the meat cooked on the bones, they will offer of all the other dishes. After they have eaten three times, the host will lead the guests to take of the sliced meat, from which they will go on to all the other dishes. A guest should not rinse his mouth with spirits till the host has gone over all the dishes. 

Do not roll the rice into a ball; do not bolt down the various dishes; do not swill down the soup. Do not make a noise in eating; do not crunch the bones with the teeth; do not put back fish you have been eating; do not throw the bones to the dogs; do not snatch at what you want. Do not spread out the rice to cool; do not use chopsticks in eating millet. Do not try to gulp down soup with vegetables in it, nor add condiments to it; do not keep picking the teeth, nor swill down the sauces. If a guest adds condiments, the host will apologize for not having had the soup prepared better. If he swills down the sauces, the host will apologize for his poverty. Meat that is wet and soft may be divided with the teeth, but dried flesh cannot be so dealt with. Do not bolt roast meat in large pieces.

When they have finished eating, the guests will kneel in front of the mat and begin to remove the dishes of rice and sauces to give them to the attendants. The host will then rise and decline this service from the guests, who will resume their seats.

If a youth is in attendance on and drinking with an elder, when the cup of spirits is brought to him, he rises, bows, and goes to receive it at the place where the spirit vase is kept. The elder refuses to allow him to do so, when he returns to the mat and is prepared to drink. The elder meantime lifts his cup, but until he has emptied it, the other does not presume to drink his.

When a fruit is given by the ruler and in his presence, if there is a kernel in it, the receiver should place it in his bosom.

When one is attending an elder and called to share with him at a feast, though the viands may be double what is necessary, he should not seek to decline them. If he takes his seat only as the companion of another for whom it has been prepared, he should not decline them.

If the soup is made with vegetables, chopsticks should be used, but not if there are no vegetables.

He who pares a melon for the son of heaven should divide it into four parts and then into eight and cover them with a napkin of fine linen. For the ruler of a state, he should divide it into four parts and cover them with a coarse napkin. To a great officer he should present the four parts uncovered. An inferior officer should receive it simply with the stalk cut away. A common man will deal with it with his teeth.

About This Text

From The Book of Rites. Known as one of the Five Classics, this ancient text exemplifies the Confucian emphasis on moral training and social customs.