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How to give gifts in China

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China has a traditional convenance of accepting and presenting gifts - courtesy demands reciprocity. Giving presents is the best way to communicate with other people. You should take the following advice into account when you choose gifts.

How to give a present

(i) Gifts always should be given face to face. If you mail a present, you should attach your card or congratulations to it.

(ii) It’s not polite to give a present to one person in public without giving to others.

(iii) It’s also not suitable to give presents to a friend in public.

Different gifts to different people

(i) Do not give gifts such as underclothes or neckties to an unfamiliar friend because those gifts have particular implication.

(ii) Do not give a watch or a clock to the elderly and do not give a pear to couples, because in Chinese, a clock is pronounceed the same as end and a pear is pronounced the same as separation.

(iii) Flowers and miniascape are suitable for patients. You should be careful not to choose the wrong kind of flowers such as yellow chrysanthemums, which represents funerals. You can send roses, carnations, lilies, birds of paradise, and so on.

(iv) If the recipient is a businessman, you must choose a gift that has the meaning of good business and making more profit.

(v) When you come back from vacation or a journey, you should bring your colleagues gifts that are not costly or not too close such as lipstick or a hshaver.

(vi) The gift to friends such as an officeholder or a teacher should not be costly and should not be given in his/her office but in his/her residence.

Different gifts in different occasions

(i) A gift given to congratulate moving to a new house can be flowers or daily articles such as a coffeepot or an oven. Remember do not choose scissors or knives.

(ii) If you are invited to a friend’s house you can take flowers, fruit or wine. Another choice is you can prepare toys or candy for the kids.

(iii) The gift for elderly in a birthday party should represent longevity and health such as noodles, peaches or a sphygmomanometer. Do not give a clock or shoes, because shoes are pronounced the same as evil in Chinese.

(iv) The gift suitable for a wedding breakfast is always money in a red envelope.

(v) In the New Year festival we can choose calendars, alcohol, tea, sweets, and cigarettes to give to the elderly.

Taboo rules

(i) Chinese wish good things are double. So they like the number of bills in a red envelope to be even not odd. But the Cantonese taboo is the number 4 because in Cantonese 4 is pronounced the same as death. Moreover, Chinese have a taboo about white or black because these always symbolize sadness,  poverty or calamity. On the contrary, Chinese favor red, which symbolizes happiness, luck and festivity.

(ii) Do not send fresh foods such as vegetables, fish or meat. It will undermine your sincerity because the gift will “disappear” soon.

(iii) Do not send a dress to a woman, because it’s hard to decide the proper color, style and size.

(iv) Above all you should rip off the price label of the gift whatever it costs.

(v) Do not send a kerchief because it means to break off and sadness.


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