Although there is a great variety of Chinese belief systems (including Christianity and Islam), the most prevalent influences are Buddhism (see above), Confucianism, Taoism and veneration of ancestors.

Confucianism was founded by Kung Fu Tzu, who was born in 551 BCE*. Confucianism deals mainly with individual morality, ethics and the proper exercise of political power. It emphasises respect for rules and authority.

The founder of Taoism is believed to be Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE). Taoism is broadly based on the key concepts of yin and yang, ch'i and the five elements of matter (water, fire, earth, metal and wood). Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are often blended to form a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent religions.

In traditional Chinese families sons and daughters must be dutiful towards older family members, particularly their parents. Reverence for ancestors is regarded as a matter of great importance. Children are expected to carry out rituals and obligations in respect to the living and the dead; however, religious scepticism among the younger generation of Chinese is common.

*Before the common era. This is often referred to as BC (before Christ)


Attitudes to healthcare staff and illness

Due to western influences over the last two or three decades, many Chinese now accept western medicine as the most advanced form of treatment. However, traditional herbal remedies given by Chinese physicians are still used and you should check whether the patient is taking Chinese herbal medicine in combination with western medicine.


Religious practices

Chinese religious practices vary according to background and tradition (see the religious practice section in Buddhism, Christianity and Islam for guidance for Chinese patients from those backgrounds).



The Chinese have definite customs concerning food, its preparation, its service, and the manner in which it is eaten. The older generation believe that rice is the only form of staple food which can give them energy and vitality. (Northern Chinese eat little rice and more wheat, maize and other cereals). Patients often ask relatives to bring in rice and other food when they visit. A traditional Chinese belief relating to diet in hospital concerns drinking soup that has been boiled for a long time (six to seven hours). Many believe that consuming well-boiled soup will help clear one's system and promote a speedy recovery.



There is no specific guidance on fasting for the Chinese community (see Buddhism, Christianity and Islam for Chinese patients from those backgrounds).


Washing and toilet

Chinese cultures place great emphasis on physical cleanliness. Most Chinese wash by pouring water over themselves or sponging. Some worry that baths could make them ill.


Ideas of modesty and dress

Chinese women are generally modest and would probably be more relaxed and content if attended by female professionals. In practice, however, the great majority of Chinese people today are used to being treated by doctors of the opposite gender.


Death customs

Funeral and mourning customs vary widely in the Chinese tradition, making it very difficult to generalise for all Chinese. In the case of a child some Chinese prefer things to be kept quiet and simple, with little or no fuss. In some instances a coffin may not be used – simply a sheet. There is no formal funeral service for a child and many Chinese do not like to mention a child who has died at all, so counselling may be difficult. Chinese families do not like to be given back any of the child's belongings as it is considered bad luck. On the death of a child, the burial takes place at once with no special ceremony. In the case of adults, the body is simply bathed and covered in a white sheet. Some Chinese still follow the custom of clothing the body in white or old-fashioned Chinese dress. The only Chinese who object to post mortems are Muslim Chinese.


Birth customs

A Chinese woman may ask not to wash her hair for one month after the delivery of a baby. This is an important tradition and she may be unwilling to go for a shower or sit in a bath. She will take great care of her body and will not take any form of exercise. Often women eat a lot of root ginger before the birth, boiled with vinegar for several weeks. Eggs may be added to 'cleanse' one's inside.

They may eat this dark mixture every day for a month after delivery. When a child is born, relatives will visit and bring presents such as chicken soup, clothing, cap and shoes for the baby, and eggs dyed red.


Family planning

Generally there are no problems with family planning although there is often a certain reserve in talking about it, and it should not be mentioned in the presence of other Chinese. Family-planning devices, sterilisation and abortion are acceptable.


Blood transfusions, transplants and organ donation

Most Chinese will agree to blood transfusion. Organ transplant can cause difficulty as traditionally the body should be buried whole, so they may be reluctant to donate organs or tissue.