Anthony Bourdain’s China Lessons Revisited

The one thing I know for sure about China is, I will never know China. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time.
                                                                                                                        – Anthony Bourdain, On Parts Unknown

Anthony Bourdain in China. From CNN

First Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. What the hell is happening? How incredibly sad.

Before I write more I feel compelled to post this from CNN:

Suicide is a growing problem in the United States. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a survey Thursday showing suicide rates increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds.

How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

As I am not qualified to say more, I will — as a huge Bourdain fan — simply repost one of our most controversial, most complained about and yet (in my view) one of our best posts. It is from ten years ago and it is provocatively titled, F-ck China Culture Lessons. Give Me Anthony Bourdain With No Reservations.

“The best way to strengthen a guanxi network is to stay connected.

“Send small gifts or ask for small favors to keep a relationship active.

Host an occasional get-together.

Remember the major Chinese holidays and send greetings.

Get to know your colleagues’ outside interests and find ways to support them, like getting tickets to a sporting event or concert.

From “China’s Changing Culture and Etiquette”


I love watching the TV show, No Reservations. The show involves Anthony Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential fame) touring a country and sampling its restaurants and foods. Despite constant (at the beginning and at every commercial) warnings of adult content (there is usually massive swearing, drinking, and smoking), I always watch it with my ten-year-old daughter because I know of no better or more interesting way to learn about foreign cultures. Every show leads her to ask a torrent of questions, with none on swearing, drinking or smoking.

Bourdain defines bon vivant (see the eating, swearing, drinking and smoking above). This is a guy who clearly loves to travel, loves meeting people of other cultures, and loves eating exotic foods. I have always divided Americans into those who think going to London constitutes stretching themselves and those who want to go somewhere where almost nothing is at all familiar. Bourdain neatly fits into the second category. Most importantly, he is a likable guy whose likability and bon vivantness (I was a French major so I know I am making up this word) crosses cultural divides.

His recent episode in Laos was amazing and led me to proclaim that one can learn more about how to act in China (or anywhere else) from a one-hour No Reservations episode than from anything else. Watch it. The key takeaway from Bourdain is that if you truly seek to enjoy and respect the people (and food) around you, truly want to learn more, truly seek to participate in the culture and food and customs of a people, and do so with spirit, you will be fine. The word truly is important because people everywhere appreciate sincerity and effort and can instinctively sense phoniness.

For more on how to get along in China, check out the following:

So watch No Reservations and the next time you find yourself in a lesson on Chinese etiquette/culture designed to make you acceptable to “the Chinese,” ask yourself who you think most likely to have a real network (note how I did NOT use the word guanxi here) in China, your instructor or Bourdain.

Update: Got to see Bourdain live and he was great. If he comes to your town, don’t miss it.

May he rest in peace.


-This article originally appeared on China Law Blog.