You Should Know: Table Manners in China
The key difference between Chinese and Western eating habits is that unlike the West, where everyone has their own plates of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares. If a Chinese host treats you, be prepared for a ton of food. Chinese are very proud of their culture of food and will do their best to give you a taste of many different types of cuisine. Among friends, they will just order enough for the people there. If they are taking somebody out for dinner and the relationship is polite to semi-polite, then they will usually order one more dish than the number of guests. If it is a business dinner or a very formal occasion, there is likely to be a huge amount of food that will be impossible to finish.
A typical meal starts with some cold dishes, like boiled peanuts and smashed cucumber with garlic. The main courses, hot meat and vegetable dishes follow these. Finally soup is brought out, which is followed by the starchy staple food, which is usually rice or noodles or sometimes dumplings.
Many Chinese eat rice or noodles last, but if you like to have your rice together with other dishes, you should say so earlier.
One thing to be aware of is that when eating with a Chinese host, you may find that the persons are using their chopsticks to put food in your bowl or plate. This is a sign of politeness. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat the whatever-it-is and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can just say thank you and leave the food there, and maybe cover it up with a little rice when they are not looking. There is a certain amount of leniency involved when dealing with westerners, so you won't be chastised.
Eating No-no's traditionally speaking, there are many taboos at Chinese tables, but nowadays not many people pay attention to them. However, there are a few things to be kept in mind, especially if you are a guest at a private home.
Don't stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, lay them on your dish. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like this shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon person at the table.
This is the proper way to set the chopsticks.
Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.