Free «The Characteristics of Politeness in Chinese Culture» Essay Paper

The Characteristics of Politeness in Chinese Culture


Every culture has its particular characteristics of politeness that make it unique and diverse. As to the Chinese culture, its politeness could be expressed with the help of cultural values, personal behaviors, and attitudes to other people. Consequently, one can distinguish the universal pragmatic specifics existing in every culture and language. It is worth mentioning that modern Chinese culture is different than it was a few decades ago. This can be explained by globalization and cross-cultural communication. This essay intends to study the characteristics of politeness in the Chinese culture and to prove that the key maxims of it are refinement, respectfulness, modesty, and warmth.

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Literature Review

Leech (1983) distinguishes the following maxims of politeness: tact maxim, generosity maxim, approbation maxim, and modesty maxim. Tact maxim maximizes benefits to other people. Generosity maxim presupposes minimizing benefit to self. Approbation maxim maximizes praise of others. Modesty maxim minimizes praise of self (Leech, 1983). However, for Chinese culture, modesty is the most important maxim. The core of Chinese politeness is based on respecting other people and denigrating self.

According to Zhu & Bao (2010), the key basic concepts in traditional Chinese ‘politeness’ are the following: refinement, attitudinal warmth, modesty, and respectfulness. Respectfulness is used to affirm other people’s social status and faces. Basically, it is showing respect to other people. Modesty is a way of debasing oneself. Attitudinal warmth is related to the expression of friendliness. It means that one should not violate freedom of other people.  As to refinement, it is the expression of elegance. Moreover, it represents the politeness norms (He, 2007).

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Chinese culture advocates etiquette. Consequently, the principle of politeness is restricted by it. Moreover, the concept of politeness in China differs from the Western culture because it has another connotation. It presupposes showing a social rank relationship (He, 2007). The researcher Huang (2008) underlines the importance of following the principles of politeness. Respectfulness is more than showing respect to others. It is a self-positive admiration or appreciation of people’s social status and faces. Modesty is the denigration of self and personal way of showing modesty. The concept of attitudinal warmth is based on warmth towards other people. Moreover, this warmth is the demonstration of hospitality, kindness, and consideration. Refinement is revealed through language use and meeting the normative standards.  Gu (1990) distinguishes five politeness maxims in Chinese culture such as the virtues-words-deeds maxim, the agreement maxim, the refinement maxim, the address maxim, and the self-denigration.

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The researchers of Chinese culture insist that if one wants to understand Chinese politeness he/she should study human’s face as it emphasizes the harmony of the individual actions with community judgments and social norms. Chinese politeness is based on the highest form of courtesy and proper treatment of people and things. Being polite in China means to make a good impression on people one is speaking with. Besides, politeness increases the reputation of a person in the society because the community praises such behavior. (Gu, 1990). Honorifics and polite expressions in Chinese culture are very popular. The most used are the following: take care of yourself, you are welcome, I am sorry to trouble you, it does not matter, excuse me, and thank you. At ceremonies, Chinese people try to demonstrate the highest level of etiquette, manners, disposition, moral qualities, and moral dignity.  It is worth mentioning that gift giving is an important ceremony of Chinese that demonstrates their attention and politeness (Wang et al., 2007).

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The gap in literature is related to the lack of analysis of the Chinese verbal and non-verbal ways of the expression of politeness. Moreover, there is not much information about the differences between the Chinese and Western values of politeness.


The analysis of the articles and books on politeness in China demonstrates that the key characteristics of Chinese politeness are attitudinal warmth, modesty, respectfulness, and refinement. It means that despite a great number of the approaches to politeness, Chinese culture remains unique and special suggesting their maxims of this behavior. Chinese people are aware that the use of politeness is a must for maintaining good human relations. Chinese politeness is associated with ceremonies and propriety, sense of morality, good breeding, honorifics, and polite expression. For example, to express respectfulness, Chinese people greet others and speak heartedly. To show modesty, they do not praise themselves even if they deserve this. To express the attitudinal warmth, the Chinese are ready to help others and share pieces of advice or practical aid. To show refinement, representatives of this nation follow what they speak and always train their patience.

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The limitation of this research refers to its commitment to politeness as the aspect of culture. However, to understand the Chinese politeness one should analyze the culture from the complex perspective. It is also necessary to use the quantative method to get a more specific picture of Chinese politeness, especially among young people, as the principles of such kind of behavoir are also changeable.


In conclusion, the Chinese politeness is characterized by refinement, respectfulness, modesty, and warmth. They key maxims of it are the virtues-words-deeds maxim, the agreement maxim, the refinement maxim, the address maxim, and the self-denigration maxim. It is evident that Chinese norms of politeness are different from Western ones. The concept of politeness is a part of Chinese culture. Moreover, it reveals a diligent attitude of Chinese people to other cultures that proves their knowledge of etiquette and commitment to the norms established in the society.  Chinese politeness is the combination of manners, etiquette, and culture with the moral qualities and values. Consequently, a person cannot be polite if he/she takes unethical and immoral decisions.

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