Why Chinese People Take Off Their Shoes in the House (and Why You Should Too!)
Check out this video to follow along with a Chinese language version of this blog post and download this free pdf with the HSK vocabulary words from the post:
If you’ve been to a Chinese person’s house before, you might have found that you were asked to take off your shoes - 脱鞋 (tuō xié) and wear slippers - 拖鞋 (tuō xié) upon entering. (The pronunciation is the same here, so pay attention to the characters!)
This tradition is common in many Asian households, including Chinese as well.
Ever wondered why many Chinese households follow this custom? Well, this post will set the record straight, with some insight into the history behind the custom as well!
Historical Origins of Shoe Removal
The practice of removing your shoes is said to stem from the Zhou dynasty (1046-256BC), when at the time it was part of etiquette to remove your shoes and socks before meeting your lord. People would also sit on the floor to eat at low tables, so the practice also made sense for hygienic reasons.
People continued removing their shoes until the end of the Han dynasty in AD220, when foreign invaders from northern and western areas came in, bringing in higher tables and chairs with them. At that time, people stopped removing their shoes until preparing to go to bed, since it wasn’t as necessary as when sitting on the floor.
It is estimated that sometime during the 20th century, Chinese families resumed the practice of removing their shoes, which has continued to date.
Modern Custom of Removing Shoes/Wearing Slippers
Besides for personal hygiene, Chinese households often take off their shoes to also help protect wood floors and carpets especially. This helps to avoid tracking in a lot of dirt and other substances from the outside, and minimize wear on the floors at the same time.
This is also one of the main reasons why in many Chinese homes, carpet is usually avoided - wooden floors are much easier to keep clean and usually appear less worn down than carpet.
Typically, when removing your shoes upon entering a Chinese house, you will also put on indoor slippers. Many times there will be cloth slippers in the winter when it’s cold, and plastic ones for the summer when it’s very hot. Most households will have several slippers which can be used for both residents and guests alike.
Please keep in mind though that not every Chinese household removes their shoes and wears slippers - it definitely depends! This is particularly true in more rural areas if there is concrete flooring in the home.
We actually have a lesson in our Upper Intermediate Course that shows Yanfeng and Yangyang’s mom touching on this very custom. This lesson is totally FREE, so check it out here to see what custom her mom uses, while learning several useful vocabulary words at the same time:
Now is the Time to Start!
This will help keep dirt and bacteria from outside from spreading all over your place, especially if you have carpeting. It’s also great for keeping your sofa, recliner, bed, and other surfaces that are made of cloth clean!
Interested in learning more about Chinese customs and habits?
Start here with this post about the 7 Weirdest Chinese Habits. If you see someone in China hang-drying their laundry on a busy sidewalk, they're not crazy – it's actually common practice. See what other habits foreigners might find unusual, but is perfectly acceptable in China.
Then check out this post 7 Chinese Cultural Faux Pas to Avoid! Some are easy to avoid and others require a bit more effort, but all are worth paying attention to, so here are seven cultural no-no’s to steer clear of.
If you're just starting out learning Chinese, be sure to check out our Beginner Conversational Course!
Level 1 of the course (with over 40 lesson videos!) is completely free, guiding you through pinyin pronunciation and building a basic foundation in Chinese, with some must-know vocabulary and sentence structures.
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We hope you enjoyed learning about this Chinese custom in this post!
Also, be sure to let us know in the comments below: Do you take your shoes off at the door? Why or why not?