Chinese Gift Giving Etiquette – What to do, what to avoid
Regarding Chinese Gift Giving… these pointers are seriously important!
As a country with a millenary history, China boasts an ancient culture largely based on respect, relationships, and rituals which maintain and promote harmony within society.
The art of gift giving in China, known as 送礼 (sòng lǐ), plays a key role as it allows people to demonstrate respect, show commitment, and maintain and strengthen relationships between family members, colleagues, and friends.
Before getting stuck into our rules we’ve got a little treat for you…
Here’s an episode of our live the language podcast if you want to listen to all the do’s and don’t of gift giving in China.
So, back to the article, ff you’re thinking about buying a present for a Chinese person, these 5 golden rules will help you to get the perfect gift!
Chinese Gift Giving Etiquette: 5 Golden Rules
#1 Make sure The Price is Right!
This is key!
The value of a gift, as one would expect, depends on the relationship with the recipient and on the situation.
Generally speaking, when visiting someone, alcohol, tea, tobacco, and fruit are considered nice gifts to say thank you to the host; health and wellness gifts, such as gloves and hats, ginseng etc, are the perfect gifts for seniors.
In business, gifts are used to strengthen relationships, and the value might vary according to the situation.
However, the most important rule to keep in mind is to give the most expensive gift to the most senior person in the company and to never give the same present to people of different ranks.
Finally, consider that, apart from a few occasions, over the top gifts might embarrass the recipient due to his impossibility of adequately reciprocate it, or, when given to people of influence, it may appear to be a bribe.
#2 Wrap Your Gift Properly
According to the Chinese gift-giving etiquette, gifts should be well-wrapped.
Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows are fine, especially if they are red (which symbolizes good luck), gold (wealth and fortune) pink and yellow (happiness). It is not appropriate to present a gift in markets’ bags.
#3 Pay Attention to your Card
Including a greeting card or a gift tag to your present is a good idea, unless you write in red ink, as it signifies bad luck and death.
More in general, never write a Chinese person’s name in red ink.
#4 Use Both Hands
When giving a gift, offer it to the person with both hands, as this is seen as a sign of respect.
When receiving a gift, most Chinese recipients will first politely decline it and then accept it. If this doesn’t happen, then don’t push the issue.
That’s right, wait!
According to the Chinese etiquette, the recipient receives the gift with both hands, but he/she doesn’t open it immediately, as this will show he pays more attention to the gift than to the people who give it to him.
Therefore, generally, gift giving in China happens after a visit or a party and it is followed by a thank-you note or gift.
And now that you know what to do when you offer a present to your Chinese friends or colleagues, let’s learn what not to do:
Chinese Gift Giving Taboos – Avoid these
- In China, is not a good idea giving clocks (送钟 sòng zhōng), umbrellas (伞, sǎn), pears (梨 lí) or shoes (鞋 xié) as they all have “bad” homophones: 送终 sòng zhōng) “attending a funeral ritual” (送终 sòng zhōng), (散 sàn) “to separate”, (离 lí) “leaving or parting” and (邪 xié) evil.
- It’s also a bad idea to give mirrors as are believed to attract ghosts and sharp object as it might seem that you want to cut off your relationship with the recipient.
- Do not give gifts in sets or multiples of four as the number four (四 sì) sounds similar to (死 sǐ) which means death. 6 and 8 are good and lucky numbers in China as the first sounds like “smooth” (溜 liū) and the second one (八 bā) sounds like “發” (fā) “to prosper”. Furthermore, there is also a visual resemblance between 88 and 囍 (shuāng xǐ)literally: “double joy”.
- Necklaces, ties, and belts are considered personal gifts, so they should only be exchanged between boyfriends and girlfriends.
Chinese Gift Giving – FAQ’s
Never buy a Chinese person a green hat. Wearing a green hat is a way of a Chinese woman confirming that she has cheated on her husband or boyfriend because the phrase sounds similar to the word for cuckold.
Therefore if you see a male with a green hat, he’s been cheated on!
Giving a Chinese person anything with the number 8 in is a great idea. Perhaps 800CNY, or 88CNY, depending on the person and their status. Including an 8 is always a good idea.
A mirror is a bad gift in China because they are seen to attract ghosts, so avoid giving these as gifts!
Gifts that have homophones with bad connotations are a bad idea in China and these four gifts have unfortunate homophones.
In order those homophones are 送终 sòng zhōng “attending a funeral ritual” 送终 sòng zhōng, 散 sàn “to separate”, 离 lí “leaving or parting” and 邪 xié evil.
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