For anyone who is unsure how to applaud at the Beijing Olympics, China's chief of etiquette has the answer: try the Olympic Four Step.

A set of hand gestures and slogans designed by the Beijing Etiquette Academy has been approved officially by the ruling Communist Party and the Beijing Games organizers.

State-run newspapers published a cartoon yesterday of a sweet-faced, doe-eyed girl in sports clothes with a bare midriff demonstrating the four recommended gestures. State television ran a special with hundreds of cheering schoolchildren showing off the moves.

The four-step will be part of a nationwide campaign deemed necessary, officials said, to encourage traditionally restrained Chinese to take part in a more high-key, extrovert show of support.

Li Ning, head of the Etiquette Academy, explained that the audience — or the cheer squads — can substitute the name of their favourite athlete or country where appropriate at each event. She told The Times: “Some of these sports — like croquet for example — are not well known in China so we want to teach Chinese people in the audience when and how to show their appreciation and support for the athletes.”

The gestures were kept simple deliberately. “We chose movements like the thumbs-up because this can be understood by people from every country and every religion. These are almost universal.”

To ensure teams of cheerleaders at the games are familiar with the four gestures, the Ministry of Education will put up posters to teach children at schools across the capital how to make the appropriate hand gestures in the proper manner. This will be aimed particularly at the 800,000 students who will be making up the live audience in many of the stands. A further 448 people have been designated as chief cheerleaders to lead audiences in the “Olympic Four Step” during the games.

State media said: “Actual training will be involved so as to spread education of how to create the cheers.”

Click here to see the poster and to read more from The Times of London.