Who doesn’t love to receive gifts? On the other hand, there are many people who love to give gifts, taking great pleasure of seeing the joy and appreciation in the faces of others as they start to open their presents…
Yet, in China, the giving of gifts is quite different from what you may be used to—and, whilst it’s important to make sure you give an appropriate gift, it’s perhaps more important to make sure don’t give anything likely to cause offence or, particularly in seriously superstitious China, perceived bad luck!
So, what sort of gifts should you give?
Well, money is always most welcome—more often than not placed in a red envelope, or hóng bāo and given to the recipient with both hands (this is the appropriate etiquette for all gift giving, by the way). Giving money for birthdays is mainly for elders and children and you may need advice on the suitable amounts to give.
Then there is fresh fruit or special, quality foods—both ideally imported or, perhaps, local snacks or food items representative of your home country—nicely displayed in a fruit basket or well packaged and visually appealing. Imported wines and bottles of whiskey or brandy will always find favour with older recipients.
Certain items of practical clothing are always welcome and, especially for the younger generation, both Chinese girls and young men, if a brand name from overseas, all the better! However, be careful with overly bright colours for the older generation.
Some may appreciate receiving health supplements such as ginseng, herbal teas or, maybe, a well-known brand of vitamins.
Of course this list is not exhaustive and, as you get to better know the people you are giving to, you may be able to personalise the giving to further meet their expectations.
Having said this, in China, sometimes the gift being received has ominous connotations and there are some gifts which should be avoided at all costs, as name of items shares a similar pronunciation to something undesirable or has negative cultural symbolism.
Such gifts to avoid include: gifts of money which include the number four (such as 40 or 400) as the pronunciation of four sounds similar to the word for death, sǐ. Hats or, more particularly, green hats, should also be avoided as the phrase to wear a green hat is used to imply that a man’s spouse is cheating on him. In a similar vein, the word for umbrella sounds like the word to separate so giving an umbrella symbolises that the relationship between you and the recipient may soon dissolve.
Another one: due to the sound connection between the phrase to give a clock and activities related to death, as you might expect, giving a clock is in bad taste—but also is giving chrysanthemums as they’re often used for funerals.
Finally, shoes: avoid buying shoes for your Chinese girlfriend as the connotation is that she may use them to walk or run away from you, thereby ending your relationship.
However, don’t worry unduly, gift giving in China not as complicated as it seems—plus, you can always ask one of your Chinese friends to help you out with your planned selection before you buy something!
Keith is the author of the website Love Asian women and has lived in Asia for over 30 years. He is adept at sharing tips about meeting, keeping relationships with and dating Asian women in order to help you find your ideal Asian bride!
How are your experiences with gift giving in other countries or especially in China?