China has a connection-centered culture and the importance of connections lies in trust. In China, giving gifts is vital to maintaining lasting relationships with not just friends, relatives, but also colleagues and clients.
If you want to impress your Chinese friends but you are not familiar with the Chinese gift culture, or have no idea what would be proper to give, well, time for you to read this guide!
I. What is a gift in Chinese?
Gift is written as 礼物 (lǐ wù) or 礼品 (lǐ pǐn) in Chinese.
II. When do Chinese people usually give gift?
Gifts are given on a wide variety of different occasions including holidays, birthdays, Chinese new year, special events, 100-days-old kid (百日宴、百天）, graduating from college, weddings, visiting someone's house, visiting a hospitalized friend, meeting your Chinese partner's parents for the first time, returning from travel, etc.
At work, Chinese gifts are given at formal meetings, as well as when meeting with clients and prospective business partners. You may also present gifts to your close colleagues when they get married, buy a new house or have a child born.
III. Chinese gift taboos, what should you avoid?
1. Knives or scissors — Cut-off relationship
Never give a knife or a scissor as a gift to Chinese. Giving sharp objects that are used to cut things suggests that you want to end a friendship or relationship.
2. The number 4 — Sounds like death
Try to avoid gifts in sets or multiples of 4 as the number four (四 sì ) pronounced similar to the word for death (死 sǐ) in Chinese. Anything related with 4 is associated with bad luck. Instead, choose the number 6 and 8 as they contain the meaning of good luck.
3. Shoes — 邪 xié
In Chinese, 'shoes' (鞋 xié) sounds like 'evil' (邪 xié). You probably want to avoid that too!
4. Clocks 钟 zhōng —Complete the burial of beloved one
Giving a clock as a gift is the biggest NO in Chinese culture. In Chinese, 'giving a clock' (送钟 sòng zhōng) , has the same pronunciation as the phrase 'sòng zhōng (送终)', when the family of a deceased person has completed the burial.
So clocks or watches are a bad gift. However, there are exception when the clock comes from a very luxury brand or a very high price tag.
5. Pears 梨 lí — Parting 离 lí
Pears taste good, but they are never a good gift! Pear (梨 lí) sounds exactly the same as the word for 'leaving' (离 -- 离开）or 'separation' (离 -- 分离).
6. Umbrellas 伞 sǎn — Breaking up 散 sàn
The Chinese word for 'umbrella' (伞 sǎn) sound like 'breaking up' (散 sàn). Giving an umbrella implies that the relationship between you and the recipient may soon dissolve.
7. Dolls – 小人 xiǎo rén
The doll belongs to the villain, in the eyes of some people it will bring evil, though this one is not critical, but you might want to avoid it too.
8. Chrysanthemum cut flowers — for funerals
Cut flowers, especially white and yellow, are generally present for funerals, in Chinese people's mind, they are associated with death, so do not give them on Chinese New Year or anyone's birthday!
IV. Some good gifts you can present to Chinese
1. Wine or cigars
2. Nicely wrapped box of Chinese tea (Check our previous tea guide)
5. High end vitamins and health supplements
6. Good quality toys for children
7. Home supplies, kitchen wares, etc.
8. Perfume or lotion when you're familiar with each other's likes
V. Remember, gifts are after all about the gesture!
Indeed, giving a well-received gift can get you more appreciation, respect and support in China. But don't be intimidated by all those 'rules' or worried about the 'cultural mistakes' you might make, especially when you cannot speak Chinese or didn't live for a long time in China!
After all, gifts are about the gesture!
As long as you really put a thought in the present, it will be well accepted and much appreciated.
Good luck with gift hunting, and let us know if you have other concerns!