My Executive


    Jun 05, 2013

    Etiquette classes popping up in China

    AS THE wealth of China grows, so does the presence of its people.

    Recently, the country made the news when a number of reports suggested that Chinese travellers have replaced the "ugly American" stereotype. The Atlantic Wire has dubbed them the Ugly Chinese Tourist, thanks to their bad behaviour.

    Now, Chinese etiquette courses are popping up, and it's hoped that these will aid in turning the country - or, at least its women, whom the courses are aimed at - into more genteel folk.

    The courses cost some 10,000 yuan (S$2,050) a day, and are gaining ground with the country's young women.

    Ms Sara Jane Ho, the founder of Institute Sarita finishing school in Beijing, said: "(Having good) manners shows people that you respect them, that your individual needs and conveniences can be subordinated to put other people first in a very selfless way.

    "And that is an important attribute for any society, Eastern or Western, rich or poor, traditional or modern."

    At her school, one learns, among other things, how to halve oranges elegantly using a knife and fork.

    Ms Ho demonstrated the first step to her students. She cut off one end of an orange, allowing it to stand firmly on a plate, and then sliced the fruit from top to bottom with care.

    "Ladies" remove orange seeds from their mouth in an elegant way, according to Ms Ho.

    She told the students they should first cover their mouth with one hand, and then use the thumb and first finger of the other to pick out the seeds, which should be put on the side of their plate later.

    "Graceful women don't make a sound when they eat," she said.


    Ms Ho, a 27-year-old Harvard Business School graduate, opened her school after attending a two-month intensive course at Institut Villa Pierrefeu, the last of Switzerland's traditional finishing schools.

    While she conceded that finishing schools are on the decline in the West, she insisted that many leading families around the world still pay attention to teaching their children etiquette.

    "They send their children to Switzerland, or similar schools in Britain or the United States, for the same reason that the Chinese are now studying etiquette - they understand that the world we live in is very global and that these international bonds will become only more complex," she said.

    Ms Ho's school offers six courses on social etiquette and protocol, including dress sense, table manners and business etiquette.

    Her students, who range from those marrying into wealthy families to successful businesswomen, learn etiquette through repeated practice in luxury five-star hotels.

    "Today's modern woman is the first to take on the roles of wife, mother, daughter and businesswoman in this new, drastically-changing world," she said.

    "What my students find most guidance on how to behave, a frame of reference. Finishing school gives women greater self-confidence and assurance. It is empowering."

    Even top educational establishments, such as Tsinghua University and Peking University in Beijing, and Fudan University in Shanghai, offer etiquette courses.

    Meanwhile, the government of Shanghai has announced that an education base, consisting of several high schools and universities, will be established to focus on etiquette, hosting skills and self-improvement. CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK