A recent article from BBC pointed out one of China’s latest social problems: etiquette. China has become one of the most powerful countries in the world. In a 30 year span, the country has moved from an isolated state to a powerhouse requiring more interaction with other cultures. China has also gained an incredible amount of wealth in a short period. So much so, that China now has 190 billionaires and about two million millionaires. These changes have put many Chinese in a situation where they need to learn the behaviors and customs of their new business partners or of the countries where they are vacationing.
Social etiquette is now becoming a defining feature in class. In the BBC article, Hebbert, a representative of the British etiquette school in China, said, “Before, it was about owning a big car… now the rich are looking for something else to make the difference” (Mangin, BBC). This is a stark contrast to the many Chinese who still struggle to get food on the table. When you are struggling to get food, you do not worry about etiquette or private spaces. Good manners seem to be a new dividing factor among the upper elite, not cars or purses.
So what has caused the increased demand for etiquette training? Many may remember that a few months ago there were headlines about the daughter of a CEO making a scene on a plane over peanuts. Enough instances like these have occurred in China that even the Chinese president has been critical of how citizens are portraying themselves abroad. In 2014 it was reported that over 100 million Chinese travelled outside of China. While the majority did not cause any headline-worthy social faux pas, some did. Credible news agencies reported on Chinese “defacing an Egyptian sculpture” (CNN), stealing lifejackets from planes, or even “throwing boiling water on a flight attendant” (Washington Post). However, most students enrolling in etiquette classes decided to sign up after having an embarrassing moment of their own while overseas or during a business dinner.
Etiquette classes, or modern day finishing schools, are now popping up across China. One institute, the Institute Sarita located in the fashionable Sanlitun district of Beijing, offers classes such as “how to pose elegantly in front of the camera,” “how to raise children,” “proper table manners,” and “luxury brand pronunciation.” With strong cultural differences between the Chinese and their global business counterparts, Chinese could greatly benefit from learning about proper western social interaction. Hebbert added that “simply knowing how to be comfortable with a knife and fork can be a deal clincher” (Mangin, BBC). Many of these classes are geared towards Western European etiquettes. The most popular course at Institute Sarita is “Hostessing,” which costs 100,000 yuan or about $16,216 for a 12-day course and covers skills ranging from engaging in small talk to pairing wines with a meal. Cultural etiquette is vital skill to have, and it looks like wealthy Chinese have realized the value of being polite and proper in a global context.
To read the full BBC article, please visit: www.bbc.com/capital/story/20150219-the-latest-chinese-status-symbol