It is important to know that gifts are a major part of the Chinese culture. For example, the Chinese would much rather reciprocate a gift with another gift than to send a ‘thank you’ card. When visiting someone in China, especially if you are a guest in their house, it is imperative that you bring a gift (whatever the monetary value) to show respect to the host.
In this article, you will learn about gifts, gift giving, and gift ideas that are appropriate in China, and which gifts are not appropriate (and should be avoided).
Gifts / Gift Etiquette in China
- Bringing a gift for your friend, relative, business partner, or host is a good idea. Depending on the nature of your visit, your gift may vary. Gifts are an important way to build relationships in China.
- Chinese are fond of items that are not accessible in China. For example, items that are hand-made, from your country, or both, are highly valued.
- The Chinese do not usually open gifts when they receive them. You should not open a gift given to you unless they insist.
- The Chinese will decline a gift two or three times (sometimes even more) before accepting. Do not give up on the first try, but be sensitive to genuine refusals.
- A proper way to show appreciation for a gift is another gift in return, as opposed to thank you cards.
Chinese Gift Symbolism, Gift-Giving, Gift Advice, Taboos
- Do not give knives, scissors as they symbolize breaking a relationship. Also avoid clocks, or anything in sets of four (four is an unlucky number as it sounds like “death”). Six, eight and nine are a lucky numbers.
- For business relations, foreign cigarettes, cognac, fine whiskey, and quality wines are great gift ideas.
- Insider Tip: If you know that your contact likes chocolate, consider bringing some high-end chocolate, as Chinese chocolate is waxy and lacks flavor. Anything you can get at a Western market or grocery story will suffice, but specialty chocolate will be sure to leave a lasting impression.
- Chinese avoid giving each other clocks as gifts are because the phrase “give a clock as a gift” is “song zhong”, which in Chinese sounds like you are “wishing someone death.” This does not apply to watches, just clocks.
- Never slice a pear in two and offer a half to someone (especially if you like them). This is symbolic of breaking up, because the phrase is “li kai”, which has the double meaning of “cut a pear” and “break up”.
- If you love someone, you can buy them a belt. It means that you want to “hold them” forever! Watches and wallets are also good gifts for lovebirds. Traditional western “love” gifts (like chocolate and roses) are becoming more common.
- Insider Tip: For the Mid-Autumn Festival, or “Zhong Qiu Jie”, (roughly falls in September) you should give a box of moon cake and give walnuts.
- A flower arrangement is an acceptable gift, but never give white chrysanthemums, or any white flowers for that matter, as they are traditionally used for funerals.
- Giving an apple basket is nice because apple, or “ping guo”, sounds like peace.
- If someone has just moved into a new house, it would be appropriate to give a vase, or “hua ping”, as it also sounds like peace.
- Insider Tip: If someone opens a store or starts a business, give the bamboo flower or “shui zhu” as a gift. By giving this gift, as represented by the many rings in the bamboo stem, you are wishing them continual growth and income.
- Gifts can be wrapped or presented in a gift bag, but do not choose the color white. Red and gold are the best colors for gift paper, bags, or boxes.