You’re a foreigner in China, and you don’t have a clue about Chinese personal space. You harmlessly put your arm on the shoulder of your Chinese host or colleague, an invasion of personal space. Unlike in western culture where personal space is not an issue, Chinese personal space and touching are keenly observed by Chinese people.

Therefore, if you notice your Chinese friend feeling uncomfortable around you, try going through personal space Chinese culture guidelines to know the problem. This article will help you understand the proxemics China rules and the no-no’s to observe. You will also get to learn more about personal space in different cultures.

Personal Space Chinese Culture – Is it Any Different?

Personal space is the physical space that immediately surrounds someone. If another person gets into this physical space, the owner will feel uncomfortable or threatened.

According to traditional Chinese culture, there should be less physical contact and touch even among the same sex. For instance, if a guy keeps touching a girl, this will not be taken as a sign of a friendly affection.

Personal Space in Different Cultures

Chinese personal space and touching guidelines state that Chinese people don’t like contact with someone who isn’t their family or intimate friends. The Chinese don’t like hugging each other or kissing each other on the cheek as a social gesture. If a guy touches a girl, he shows that he’s into her.

Before going into details, it’s important to note that the Chinese prefer establishing a friendship bond before closing any deal. Therefore, you should learn some Chinese business etiquette before going into any business meeting.

Invading Personal Space…When Do You Know if You Have Crossed a Line?

Chinese proxemics are the theory of non-verbal communication that explains how Chinese people perceive and use space to archive communication goals. It’s one of the five non-verbal communication methods. The other four are; kinesics (body language), semiotics (sign language), chronemics (time) and haptics (touch).

Physical distance between friends or communicators shows how deep their relationship is. The eye contact, body angles, and touch reveal more details about that particular relationship.

Eye contact in China – what it means

In the western culture, eye contact is usually taken as a form of communication. However, eye contact in China has limits. For instance, an extended eye contact may be made as a challenge to authority or an affront. According to the Chinese culture, a brief eye contact is acceptable. For example, children in China and Japan show respect to the seniors by not making intense eye contact while employees are not to make eye contact with their employers.

Also, the Chinese don’t take avoiding eye contact as rude or being submissive. Instead, they take it as a sign of being reverent or polite.

There are four broad categories of personal space: intimate, personal, social and public distance. There are a few factors that influence personal space in different cultures. Some of these factors include:


Personal space gets bigger with age. For instance, children are happy when they are physically closer to each other, but as they start to be aware of their sexuality, they feel comfortable when space increases.


Male-to-male personal space is the largest followed by female-to-female and finally male-to-female. However, this will depend on the situation or the relationship between the two individuals.


Different cultures use personal space to communicate. The size of personal space varies from one culture to the next.


Personality is known to play a significant role in determining the size of personal space. Cold and quarrelsome people require a larger personal space while gregarious people require a smaller one.

In Western countries, it’s very common for people to bump into strangers without saying ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ on crowded malls and streets. However, in Chinese culture, the concept of personal space is very different. For instance, people standing in a line should stand close together. Leaving gaps will invite people to cut the line.

Invasion of personal space

Why do people hate it when we invade their personal space? The answer is very simple; it’s a Personal Space. So, how will you know if you’re invading someone’s bubble? Well, here’s how:
· Most people tend to back away if something threatens their personal space. Stop advancing when you see someone backing away as you approach them.

A cold shoulder

Observe the body language. When someone turns to the side and present you with his/her shoulder, just back off.

Eye contact

Avoiding eye-contact signifies that you’re uncomfortable with how close someone is getting.

Facial expressions

Most people tend to make a worried expression or scowl when they feel uncomfortable.

There are many articles which claim that there’s no personal space in China. There are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to Chinese personal space and touching. These guidelines will ensure that you establish a good relationship with your Chinese colleagues. It’s also crucial to keep a brief eye-contact when with the Chinese. They don’t like it. This should be observed between parents and children, elders and youths, employers and employees and teachers and students.

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