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Monday, February 8, 2016

How to Give Gifts to Chinese People - A Practical Guide to Gift-Giving

The art of gift giving is exactly that in China - an art. If you want to survive in China socially, politically, professionally, etc you will need to master this not-so-simple art.

Note: Pay special attention to the gifts you should NEVER give to a Chinese person!

1. Offer gift 2-3 times: Chinese people will polite refuse an invitation, gift or favor 2-3 times in order to show that they are modest and humble. No one wants to look greedy so continue to offer your gift a couple of times. For the same reason, don't expect the Chinese to open the gift in front of you. 

NoteIf they refuse after the 4th or 5th time, then you may need to re-evaluate your gift's appropriateness (happens especially in business since the gift may be seen as a bribe). 
2. If invited to someone's home, bring a gift: If a Chinese person invites you to his or her home, it is NECESSARY to bring a gift! The more expensive your gift, the more respect you have for your host but be careful not to go overboard since the your host will feel obligated to reciprocate. Remember to make use of lucky numbers (e.g. 8 flowers - click here for my article on lucky numbers).

3. Use two hands: As a sign of respect, offer the gift with 2 hands. If gift is offered to you with 2 hands, accept with 2 hands.

4. Be fair: Chinese people gossip and word is going to get around if you get one group a gift and not the other. For groups, you are better off giving something that can be shared by all. When I use to go on business trips, I would always bring my colleagues food from the local regions I would visit. 

5. NEVER give the following items:
    No clocks - no matter how cool
  • Clocks - If you give a clock, you are pretty much telling the recipient that you are going to count the seconds until their deaths. The Chinese word for gifting a clock (送钟 - "song zhong" in both Cantonese/Mandarin) sounds just like the Chinese word for funeral (送终 - "song zhong" in both Cantonese/Mandarin)
  • Fans - Similar to clock, the Chinese word for fan (扇 - "shan" in Mandarin and "saan" in Cantonese) is a homonym for the Chinese word separate/scatter (散 - "san" in Mandarin and "saan" in Cantonese)
Not a happy camper but who can blame him
  • Green Hats (to men) - The Chinese expression "wearing a green hat" means the man's wife/girlfriend has been cheating on the him
  • Pen with Red Ink, Scissors, Knives, Sharp Objects - All these items symbolize the severing of ties and relationships
Note: One work around for giving these "taboo" gifts is to give the gifter a small amount of money (10 cents, etc) so the gift is no longer a gift but a purchased item.
6. Wrap gifts in lucky colors: Red is always lucky. Gold, silver and pink are also ok. When in doubt consult a department store or just go RED.

7. Red envelopes are always accepted: You can never go wrong with cold hard cash. click here for my article on Red Pockets

If you know of any other Chinese gifting customs not covered, please feel free to share in the comments section! 

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