Chinese Gift Etiquette, Gift Ideas and Taboos

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

    Help with Giving Gifts in China by Robert Thompson Chinese Travel Advice
  • 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”.
  • Gifts of Love in China

  • 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.
  • White Chrysanthemums should never be given as a gift.  They are used in funerals.  Avoid white flowers in general.

  • 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.

111 thoughts on “Chinese Gift Etiquette, Gift Ideas and Taboos

  1. Ive been writing to a girl in china for a few weeks,and getting very close to her.
    she wants to visit her parents in another town and tell them about me. she has asked for money to buy gifts for them saying this is custom.Can some one let me know if this is a scam?

  2. My boss is visiting China for a World Union of Olympic Cities summit and is looking for a good gift for the Mayor of Beijing. Help!!!

  3. I am interested in this Chinese woman who lives her in US ,and she will be going China visit her parents ,sister and brothers ,and son.Would it be proper give her a gift ,and for her parents show I am really interested in her ,and remember me since she be gone for 5 months? If yes then can you give me some good gift ideas . I know she is from Southeren China in mountains.

  4. I want a gift for a first date with a Chinese woman that has been living in USA for 7 years, but she still has many traditional values. Note that I am white American and don’t want to insult her.

  5. Hello!
    A chinese girl have bought my apartment in Sweden, and I wanted to leave her a small “move-in” present that would mean something to her, and most importantly not offend her. What would be a good gift?

    Thanks!!

  6. What pearls of wisdom! I am going to china soon and will be visiting several of my fathers friends whom will each be putting me up for a few days.

    Is it customary to buy the wife a gift also? or should i buy something for the whole family? (i understand the children might not be partial to a single malt.)

    I’m also thinking of using this travel company for my holiday in china any recommendations on that front?

    Faye :-)

  7. @Alex Someone gave me a simple pearl necklace and I always wear it for special occassion :)
    @Jenny A plant would be nice, something flowery or cactus.

  8. I see that baskets of apples are ok. What about baskets of other fruits? (I have some apricots that I would like to give to a Chinesefriend newly arrived in Canada).

  9. Pingback: High-End Gift Ideas for Chinese Businessmen | Ian Nerney's Blog

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