Sara Jane plans to show her students
pictures and videos of Kate Middleton – someone who, like China itself,
rose from a relatively humble background to take her place at the top
She says: ‘Kate is probably the most
followed Royal in China. She is very elegant, very classy. Even though
she is not from an aristocratic family, she carries herself very well
and I think she is a role model for the younger generation around the
‘All my students will
know who she is. It is very demanding to be a role model and to have
everybody watch your every move, but she has carried it off with so much
class and patience. She seems to exude kindness and etiquette awareness
and care for others. The English adore her as well, don’t they?’
Culture clash: Sara Jane Ho teaches table
manners at her etiquette school in a five-star hotel in Beijing where
students pay £2,000-£10,000 to learn how to present themselves the
Clear instructions: A 'no spitting' sign at a textile factory in Zhejiang Province
Sipping elegantly from a bowl of
vegetable soup in a trendy Beijing restaurant, Sara Jane, a 27-year-old
graduate of Harvard Business School, says China misplaced its manners
during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Her own family fled and then made its
fortune in Hong Kong.
her plummy British accent, she says: ‘I am Chinese and very proud of my
country. I don’t think the vast majority of Chinese people are purposely
offensive. They just haven’t been enlightened to etiquette awareness.
‘The Cultural Revolution wiped a lot
of that away. When you are pushing to the front of the food ration line
just to get that last bit of rice to feed your family, you don’t have
the luxury to think about etiquette. You are just trying to survive.’
is hoping to invite British aristocrats to lecture her students and
even has plans to lead classes on a Grand Tour, taking in the opera
houses and art galleries of Europe to complete their education.
Model behaviour: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is the inspiration for many young, high society Chinese women
Beijing’s nouveau riche will be no small task. At an introductory
lesson, female students drove up in a convoy of Maseratis, Ferraris and
Bentleys, then emerged in a maelstrom of fur and diamonds. Their nails
were so ornate they had difficulty handling the cutlery.
Hong Kong and London, it is all about subtlety,’ explains Sara Jane.
‘In Beijing, I will go out for lunch with a girlfriend and she will have
a big Marc Jacobs ring that you open up and it’s a lip balm. When I go
out to socialite events in Beijing and I put on minimal make-up, they
say, “Darling, you didn’t put make-up on today. Are you feeling OK?” ’
Multi-millionaire’s wife Zaozao Jiang,
one of her new students, says the shocking manners of her fellow
countrymen have almost driven her abroad. ‘I simply can’t abide people
who pick their noses, spit and talk too loudly,’ complains the glamorous
30-year-old Beijing socialite.
Zaozao, whose husband heads one of
China’s biggest auction houses and has a family income equivalent to
£1 million a month, is an eye-catching regular in the society columns of
China’s glossy magazines.
She adds: ‘Some people behave like
barbarians. They eat and drink loudly and take phone calls in the middle
of dinner or at a movie. There are so many wealthy people in China but
they have no manners. I often think about migrating to another country
because of it.’
Zaozao will pay between £5,000 and
£6,000 for her course and says she is already amazed at what she has
learned from two introductory sessions, adding: ‘We were taught how to
shake hands, and how you should always have eye contact when you’re
talking to people. Before the course, I didn’t know how to wipe my mouth
properly with a napkin or how to fold it before placing it in my lap –
or even how to tear a piece of bread and put butter on it.’
She pauses, then adds with a shudder: ‘It’s only now that I realise how terribly rude I must have seemed.’
lack of manners has become something of a national embarrassment, with
academics openly debating in the state-run media how habits can be
changed. Certainly, public behaviour can come as a shock to Westerners.
one of my first visits in 2004, I learned not to put my head out of a
bus window. When I did so, a man three rows ahead spat expertly and
copiously out of the window and scored a direct hit on me. It is not
uncommon to see people blowing their noses without a handkerchief.
translator told me, however, that many Chinese believe phlegm is toxic
and that spitting it out expels poison from the body. To them, she said,
our habit of blowing our noses into a handkerchief and putting it in
our pockets is just as repugnant.
Jane hopes that the perfect manners she is teaching will trickle down
to the rest of Chinese society: a new form of cultural revolution. ‘When
I say I’m starting an etiquette school the first thing people say to me
is, “Thank you. China needs this,” ’ she says.