Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies/Social Life
The Chinese in their social intercourse have certain well-defined rules. A visitor will seek the acquaintance of the inhabitants of the town or village by calling on any gentlemen to whom he may have letters of introduction, while his wife or female relatives visit the ladies. The arrival of a distinguished man in a place of any importance is usually celebrated by a dinner given in his honour by the leading residents. At a dinner party the gentlemen sit at one table and the ladies at another in a different room. Dishes are served ready cut up, the food being placed in a large bowl or dish in the centre of the table, from which the guests help themselves mouthful by mouthful. The table is usually square or round, a long table being rarely seen.
Tea and tobacco are always to hand in a man's office or place of business, both for his own use and for that of callers. The tea is regarded not only as a stimulant, but as a desirable substitute for strong drink.
In official circles tea has a curious ceremonial use. At the commencement of a conference cups of the beverage are brought in and placed before the official and his visitor, and when the official, whose ideas of politeness will not suffer him to dismiss his visitor in so many words, desires to intimate that the interview must be brought to an end, he does so by lifting the cup and drinking the tea, whereupon the visitor departs.