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10 things you need to know about gift-giving in China

By Juwai, 23 December 2013
giftgiving

Whether you want to give a present to a Chinese customer for the holidays, or just to build a relationship, bear in mind that there are some things to never gift a Chinese.

While gift giving plays a vital role in maintaining a good relationship in Chinese culture, be it for business or personal, there are complex cultural rules that apply.

These include unspoken rules, such as always remembering to offer and/or receive a gift with two hands. Chinese may also refuse a gift the first few times it is offered, to reflect modesty and to not appear greedy.

To help you navigate through the intricate web of the gift-giving culture in China, here are some quick Chinese gift-giving 101 from Juwai for you:

 

no to do in Chinese5 Gifts to Never Give to a Chinese Person:

clock Clock: The words for ‘gifting a clock’ (送钟; sòng zhōng) in Chinese sounds horribly alike to the Chinese funeral ritual of 'seeing someone off to his end' (送终; sòng zhōng). In short, giving someone a clock is akin to hastening someone to their death.

footprintsShoes: The word for ‘Shoes’ in Chinese (鞋; xié) sounds like the Chinese word for ‘evil’ or ‘heretical’ (邪; xié) . It also giving them the tools to ‘walk away’ – sending the message that you want to part ways, thus ending your relationship.

flowersWhite Flowers: White and black are colours commonly used for mourning in China. If you want to delight them with flowers, don’t use white ones – especially Chrysanthemum flowers, which are only used when visiting graves or during funerals.

pearsPears: While giving fruits is usually a safe option, giving pears is a big no-no. The Chinese word for 'pear' (梨; ) sounds the same as 'to separate' or 'to part from' (离; ), so giving pears indicates that you hope the recipient's family will separate (in death or divorce).

dice fourGifts in Sets of Four: The Chinese word for 'four' (四; sì) sounds similar to 'death' in Chinese (死; sǐ). Need we say more?

 

to do in Chinese5 Good Gifts to Give to a Chinese Person:

chocolateChocolates: China’s appetite for premium chocolate is growing, in particular quality, imported chocolates, which are seen as a luxury gift. In fact, 32.1% of chocolate consumers in China prefer foreign brands, so this is one gift that can’t go wrong.

wine glassWine: The Chinese have discovered a passion for good wine in recent years, so foreign wine makes an excellent gift. It could also symbolise a toast to their good health, and that’s twice the sincerity.

appleApples: A popular tradition in China is to give apples – ‘Ping Guo’ (苹果) – on Christmas Eve. This is because Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping An Ye’ (平安夜), which sounds similar to the word for apple, and literally translates to ‘Peaceful, Silent Night’.

Eiffel towerLocal Specialties: Add a touch of the local. Gifts from your own country, region or city are always a good idea. For example, if you are from France, a mini Eiffel Tower would be a nice touch.

dice eightGifts in Sets of Six or Eight: The number 6 (六; liù) sounds like the word for 'flow' (流; liú), which indicates fluidity and that 'everything will go smoothly'. The number 8 is considered the most auspicious number for the Chinese, mostly because the word 'eight' (八; ) in Chinese somewhat resembles the Chinese word for 'prosper' or 'wealth' (发; ). Both numbers are highly favoured by businessmen, so take note.

 

There are plenty more do's and don'ts when it comes to gift-giving in China, but these 10 gifting tips should suffice to prevent you from accidentally committing a taboo with your gifts this festive season.

We wish you every success with your gifting endeavours to Chinese this year. Here's to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year indeed!