Body-language and nonverbal communication

Language in Chinese and American Cultures, but with Different Meaning

Language in Chinese and American Cultures, but with Different Meaning 

Here is some information on basic differences between China and the US



Meaning in China Body Language Meaning in U.S.

Anger, irritation, frustration, remorse

Stamping one’s foot Impatience

Thank you; mutual positive feelings

Speaker or performer clapping at the same time audience applauds

Applauding oneself; improper, immodest

Curiosity, sometimes surprise

Staring, gaping

Considered impolite; makes people embarrassed, self- conscious

Disapproval, hissing “Shoo” Calling for silence

Seldom used; occasionally adults may pat head of children to show affection; patting the head of a teenager or adult would cause displeasure and can be insulting

Pat on head

Giving comfort, consolation or encouragement; also shows affection


Different Body Language, Same Meaning

Meaning Body Language in China Body Language in U.S.
“Come here” (beckoning some to come)

Hand extended toward person, open palm, palm down, with all fingers crooked in a beckoning motion

Hand extended toward person, closed hand, palm up, with forefinger only moving back and forth (in China, this same gesture would be considered offensive by many)

“Shame on you!” (semi-joking gesture)

Forefinger of one hand extended, tip touches one’s own face several times quickly; similar to scratching, but with the forefinger straight (usually with the remark “Shame on you!”)

Forefinger of each hand extended, palms down in front of one’s body; one forefinger makes several brushing movements over the back of the other forefinger

“I’m very full” (after a meal)

One or both hands open, lightly patting one’s own stomach

Hand raised to throat, fingers extended, palm down (often with the remark “I’m full up to here”)


Body Language and Meaning in One Culture, No Equivalent in Other Culture

Body Language Meaning in U.S.
Chewing one’s fingernails Emotional stress, worried, doesn’t know what to do
Thumbing one’s nose (one thumb on tip of own nose, fingers curled and moving together) Defiance, contempt

Wagging one’s finger (forefinger of one hand raised, other fingers clasped, the raised forefinger is wagged from side to side)

Warning not to do something; indicating that what the other person is doing wrong

Thumb down (arm crooked in front of body, closed fist, thumb extended down, one or several downward movements)

Rejection of a proposal, idea, person; nonverbal way of saying a strong “No”
Winking (quick closing of one eye, generally with a smile and slight nod)

May show several feelings: understanding, approval, encouragement, trying to get across a message, solidarity


Body Language Meaning in China
Touching or pointing to tip of one’s own nose with raised forefinger “It’s me” “I’m the one” (To Westerners, the gesture would seem slightly funny)
Using an open hand to cover one’s mouth while speaking (generally used by older people) To show confidentiality and secrecy; sometimes no meaning
Using both hands (when one would be enough) in offering something to a visitor or another person Respect
(When one’s tea cup is being refilled by the host or hostess) putting one or both hands upright, palm open, beside the cup “Thank you”
Upraised forefinger of each hand coming together in front of the body until the two touch Boy and girl in love; a good match
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