A warped piece of wood must be steamed and forced before it is made straight; a metal blade must be put to the whetstone before it becomes sharp. Since the nature of people is bad, to become corrected they must be taught by teachers and to be orderly they must acquire ritual and moral principles. When people lack teachers, their tendencies are not corrected; when they do not have ritual and moral principles, then their lawlessness is not controlled.
In antiquity the sage kings recognized that men’s nature is bad and that their tendencies were not being corrected and their lawlessness controlled. Consequently, they created rituals and moral principles and instituted laws and limitations to give shape to people’s feelings while correcting them, to transform people’s emotional nature while guiding it. Thus all became orderly and conformed to the Way (ibid., p. 25).
THE VISITOR: I have desired an interview for some time, but have had no justification for asking for one. Now his honor So-and-so has commanded me to visit.
THE HOST: The gentleman who introduced us has ordered me to grant you an interview. But you, sir, are demeaning yourself by coming. Please return home, and I shall hasten to present myself before you.
THE GUEST: I cannot disgrace you by obeying this command. Be good enough to end by granting me this interview.
THE HOST: I do not dare to set an example of how a reception of this kind should be conducted, and so I persist in asking you to return home, and I shall call on you without delay.
THE GUEST: It is I who do not dare to show that example, and so I persist in asking you for an interview.
THE HOST: Since I have failed to receive permission to decline this honor, I shall not press it further. But I hear that you are offering me a gift, and this I must decline.
THE GUEST: Without a gift I cannot dare to come into your presence.
THE HOST: I am not worthy of these ceremonies, and so I must persist in declining.
THE GUEST: If I cannot have the support of my gift, I dare not pay you this visit; so I persist in my request.
THE HOST: I also am decided in declining; but as I cannot secure your consent, how dare I refuse?
Then the host goes to meet the guest outside the gate, and there bows twice, answered by two bows from the guest. Then the host, with a salute, invites him to enter. The host goes in by the right side of the door, the guest holding up the present and entering by the left […].
When a gentleman visits an official, the latter declines altogether to receive his present. At his entrance the host bows once, acknowledging their difference in rank. When the guest withdraws, he escorts him and bows twice. When a gentleman calls on his former superior, the host formally declines the visitor’s gift: “As I have not been able to receive your consent to my declining, I dare not persist in it.” Then the guest enters, lays down his gift, and bows twice. The host replies with a single bow. When the guest leaves, the host sends the attendant to return the gift outside the gate […].
At their first interview with the ruler, visitors carry a gift, holding it on a level with the girdle. Their deportment shows a respectful uneasiness. When commoners have an interview with their ruler, they do not assume dignified carriage, but hurry along both in advancing and retreating. Gentlemen and officials lay down their present and kowtow twice. To this the ruler responds with a single bow. If the visitor is from another state, the usher is sent to hand him back his gift, saying: “My unworthy ruler has sent me to return your present.” The visitor replies: “A ruler has no ministers beyond his own borders, and therefore I dare not refuse to do as he commands.” Then kowtowing twice, he receives it back (ibid., pp. 42-44).
Rules of Propriety and Social Roles
Remnants of the old etiquette can be seen in different situations. For example, once I was invited to dinner by a Chinese family. I was often told by my hosts “not to be polite” (不要客氣) and to try more dishes; this exhortation is based on the assumption that a visitor will refuse something offered to him a few times for the sake of politeness. But in my case, I simply didn’t like that particular food. Nevertheless, I had to eat it in order not to offend my hosts. Chinese etiquette often leaves little room for mutual understanding and honest confrontation, because it is a predefined and somewhat rigid set of rules.
When you first arrive in China, you need to pay courtesy visits to show interest and respect. You need to proactively spend time and energy to build personal relationships and trust with your major customers and key government officials. On an ongoing basis, you need to throw banquets for them to show your appreciation […]. Gift-giving for special holidays such as the Chinese New Year and Moon Festival can be a good idea to show good gestures and friendship (How to Do Business in China, Michael Yih-chung Shen 2004, p.99).
Xie, a high-level official in Dalian, introduced me to his three friends. They were part of his social base that helped secure his official position and wealth. Their relationship illustrates that the lines between state and society, public and private spheres are not clearly drawn in China. Hu and Ren were owners of private enterprises. Jin was the head of a police bureau in the central district of Dalian. More than a thousand karaoke bars, hotels, restaurants, sauna salons, and nightclubs fell under his jurisdiction. Xie emphasized to me the importance and inherent danger of these connections. Nobody can rise to power without the help of one’s friends, and nobody can maintain that power if one of those friends fails. Each “friend” contributes and receives, in what, if successfully cultivated, can develop into a long-term exchange relationship. Each of the friends had resources to offer the others: Xie, his official power; Hu and Ren, their economic power; and Jin, his legal and administrative power. To strengthen their ties, they often gathered in restaurants, karaoke bars, and sauna salons. The bill was always taken care of by the entrepreneurs Hu and Ren.
The three men started bragging about how they once spent more than 4,000 yuan on beer, French wine, ecstasy (yaotouwan), and the hostesses’ strip performance. They were encouraging the three hostesses to perform a strip dance after taking ecstasy […].
Jin’s strategy of eliciting from the hostess a confirmation of his own appeal to women, affirming his manhood and masculine charm, was a transparent use of the hostess as a vehicle to demonstrate his charisma and potency, and ultimately, his power, to his business partners. It is apparent that the power of the patrons is demonstrated both by their conspicuous consumption and by their capricious treatment of the women (Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China, Tiantian Zheng 2009, pp. 107-112).