A Quick Guide: Giving Gifts in China

Gift-giving in China is rooted in principles showing great respect to seniors and superiors. It also shows dedication and sincerity in building relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.

A lot of occasions encourage people to give gifts, such as when meeting with a business client, partner, and especially government authorities. 

Other special events include birthdays, Chinese New Year, 100-day-old child, graduations, meeting your future spouse’s parents, visiting a friend’s home, and more.

To avoid suggesting bad luck or feeling embarrassed, it’s crucial to know the proper way of giving gifts in China. And this is what our guide today is all about.

General Rules in Chinese Gift-Giving

General Rules in Chinese Gift-Giving

The following are the rules you have to follow when giving a gift in China: 

  • Always give a gift to someone with two hands to be polite. Presentation counts as well and people love and appreciate the color red because it symbolizes good luck, happiness, and prosperity.
  • Opening the gift in the presence of the sender is not proper in Chinese culture. So people just open it later and in private.
  • Unlike before, you can’t give a business gift to your associates, clients, and employees since it’s regarded as bribery and has been made illegal by the Chinese Government.

However, you can still give them a gift as a friend, though, with all business matters aside.

  • Don’t give an expensive gift to a superior or workmate in a business setting around many people. Remember China has a strict rule against bribery even though it is not your intention.

Besides, this may embarrass the receiver and give him personal issues to deal with. 

Also, if you are one of the witnesses, refrain from taking pictures of the small gift-giving event, unless the gift is symbolic and meant to be given from one company to another as a whole.

  • When gifting a red packet, ensure that the money inside should be crisp and new. You can use gold-colored packets too which also symbolize success and abundance.
  • One must keep to mind the saying 礼尚往来 (lǐ shàng wǎng lái). This translates to “courtesy demands reciprocity”.

So whenever you get a gift from someone, it is expected that you will repay it with a gift, not right now, but some time in the future. This shows that you value and care about the relationship and the person who gave it to you.

Gifts to Avoid in China

Now you know some basic gift-giving etiquette, let’s see the gifts you should try to avoid at all costs.

  • Rule out gifting sharp items such as knives and scissors. They symbolize the severing or breaking off of a relationship.
  • Don’t give shoes as its Chinese word reads xié (鞋) which is similar to the Chinese word for evil also xié  (邪). Giving them to your girlfriend or mother means there’s evil and tells them to run away from it.
  • Don’t give things with or that suggest the number four like, for example, giving four dining mats. In both Cantonese and Mandarin languages, four sounds the same as death.
  • Likewise, don’t give straw sandals, a clock, pears, and a handkerchief nor wrap a gift with white, black, or blue paper. All of these items connote funerals, death, or parting.
  • White and yellow flowers are to be avoided because these are only given at funerals. As are potted plants because these stand for sickness that’s still ongoing.

It’s a lot safer not to give flowers during the Lunar New Year. In place of this, you could give red packets, round fruits (like oranges, apples, and tangerines), sweets, tea, stuffed animals, and wine, just to name several.

More Resources on Gift-Giving in China

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