Chinese Gift Giving Culture 101

Do Chinese people exchange gifts?

Yes, of course they do! However, a 4,000-year-old civilization doesn’t come without some deeply ingrained gift giving etiquette that might need some explaining.

Let’s start with the basics - ¥¥¥

How much money should you spend?

When thanking a host for their hospitality, go cheap. Just a little something to show you appreciate them hosting you. Alcohol, tea, tobacco, and fruit are considered nice gifts to say thank you.

In business, the idea is to strengthen relationships. So, the value will vary, however the golden rule is always to give the most senior person the most expensive gift and NEVER give the same gift to people of different ranks!

A final point on money. Over the top gifts will embarrass the recipient as they will either feel they that they can’t reciprocate the gift OR think it’s a bribe. Either way, it’ll be awkward.

Wrapping

According to gift-giving etiquette, gifts should be well-wrapped. So, just handing over the box it came in is a big no-no.

The colour of the gift wrap doesn’t matter but using a bit of red (good luck), gold (wealth), pink and yellow (happiness) won’t hurt your chances of impressing that certain someone.

The Card

It’s a good idea to include a card with the gift but DON’T I repeat DON’T write the person’s name in red ink. In ancient times prisoners on death row had their names written in chicken blood. Today writing someone’s name in red is beyond insult. You’re basically wishing death upon them. Black or blue ink people, black or blue!

The Hand Over

There are a few more things you should know when handing over a gift.

  1. Use both hands. This is seen as a sign of respect to the other.
  2. The awkward decline. Most Chinese recipients will first politely decline it then accept it. Insist that you wish to give them the gift but if they double down then don’t embarrass them. They really don’t want it.
  3. The wait. It’s polite in Chinese culture not to open the gift in front of the gift giver. So don’t insist they do so, and similarly don’t open a gift you just received.

Unwelcome Gifts

Before you decide what gift to give, let’s establish some firm NOs for gifts to give your Chinese pals.

  • Sharp objects – Interpreted as you are cutting them out of your life.
  • Handkerchiefs – You’re saying goodbye forever.
  • Umbrellas – interpreted as a breakup.
  • 4 of anything - four (四 sì ) sound like death (死 sǐ) in Mandarin and is to be avoided as much as possible.
  • Shoes - shoes’ (鞋 xié) sounds like ‘evil’ (邪 xié).
  • Pears – are given to sick people.
  • Clocks & watches – The saying ‘giving a clock’ (送钟 sòng zhōng) sounds exactly the same as saying ‘burial of a loved one’  (送终 sòng zhōng).
  • Cut and/or white flowers – again very death related and best avoided.
  • Mirrors – They attract ghosts and if broken are a bad omen.
  • Ornamental stones with an unknown source – could be attached to evil spirits. Don’t believe me? Try throwing one at a mirror!
  • Dolls – You’ve finally done it and hit the trifecta of evil spirits with your broken mirror, unidentified ornamental stone and your Chucky doll.
  • Green hats – There’s an interesting story behind this one! Back in the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) family members of prostitutes were made to wear green hats. Today if you gave someone one, you’re telling them that their partner is being unfaithful.
  • Candles – For memorializing the dead.
  • Necklaces, ties, combs and belts – only for that special someone. Super weird for a friend or boss.

Our top 10 gift choices for a Chinese person

So, we’ve established some pretty firm NO NOs up until this point. You might be freaking out, thinking you’re going to mess this up one way or another.

Did you think we were going to leave you hanging?

Here are our top 10 gifts from around the world. We’ve even put them in price order, so you’ll even know which one to give to the big boss!

Most Chinese people are fascinated by other cultures. So, giving them something from your part of the world is always well received. Sorry, we’re not going to get into 194 gift ideas from all around the world.

Please tell us in the comments section below what product from your country you would like to see on Baopals!

Gift ideas from around the world

Special thanks to LTL Mandarin School for their guest blog this week. If you’re interested in studying Mandarin in China check out their website!