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This article is a simple gift-giving guide in Chinese culture, everything you need to know and to avoid when giving a gift to a Chinese person or preparing a gift on a business meeting. Keep in mind that the article is of general nature and that there are adaptations to western culture in certain environments. The advice here is not to be confused with giving red envelopes, so-called “hongbao” for this matter will provide another article focusing particularly on red envelopes in China.

Gift-Giving Occasions 

In China gifts are given on holidays such as birthdays or diner at a friend’s home. Another place for gifts in China are business meetings. The gift-giving culture is rooted in Confucianism, it is about respecting the different relationships in society and showing respect to the elders. A lot of relationships in family, business and politics are managed through gift giving in China. In that sense, gift-giving can be considered a social tool with a purpose. It is important for building new and maintaining old relationships. In general, relationships between Chinese are strengthened through gifts, friendly gestures, favors and eating meals together.

How Expensive is The Gift Supposed To Be ?

Chinese people tend to have less real friends, on the other hand the existing friendships are for life. When looking for a business relationship, you’re trying to build a solid and firm relationship that should be worth your investment. Don’t go too cheap when you’re trying to build a relationship with somebody you want to show your appreciation. The value of the present can also depend on the quality of the relationship you already have with that person. The higher the persons rank the more expensive your present is supposed to be. If the present is for a whole team or group of people e.g. workmates, the person with the highest rank gets the present. Avoid giving the same present to people of different ranks in the same company. If the person does not get a present he or she would end up losing face. In best case you don’t want to give a gift just to one person in a group.

Situation as described above is a time when an expensive gift might be necessary (business meeting), however a present can also be rejected if it is too expensive for several reasons. The persons who receives the present might feel embarrassed because it can not afford a gift for you of the same value. Overpriced gifts can also be considered a bribe when dealing with officials. Unlike a bribery the goal of a gift is to show your commitment for creating or maintaining a strong relationship with that person. Bribery is usually done with money in the red envelope, however the red envelope gifts are not being used for bribery in the first place. Keep in mind that the relationships loses its stability if one person receiving the gift always repays the gift with something of lower value than the received gift.

Protecting Your Face 

People in China do not want to appear greedy when receiving a gift so it is polite not to open it immediately after receiving it. People would open the gift when the guest has left. It is polite to take and give the gift using both hands because it shows that you are putting your maximum attention into this matter.

What To Buy ?

Chinese usually appreciate local specialties like things that your hometown is famous for or especial good at making something. It could be a special wine, textiles or technology. If it is not your hometown then at least something that your country is being known for producing very well. Things that are harder to buy in China are also very appreciated. Since many business men drink and smoke, tobacco and alcohol is welcomed as well. Next to baby milk powder which is highly appreciated but not suitable as a gift in China, food supplements are in high demand and suitable as a gift.

Avoid a clock as a present at any price because it is associated with “death”. Try to avoid the number four in general because it is also associated with “death” since it sounds just like the word “death” in Chinese which is “sǐ”. The color red on the contrary is associated with good luck and Chinese people try to use a red package every time they buy a present for somebody. Be careful though, never write a Chinese persons name with a red ink because it brings bad luck. Pink and Yellow are associated with happiness while gold is associated with fortune and wealth. Avoid white, blue and black since these colors are also negatively associated with the described above. For men, green hats has been historically associated with husbands who have unfaithful wives, avoid such present at any cost. Shoes are also to be avoided since “to walk away” means “to die” in China. Books are an inappropriate gift during competitions or situations where the person has something to lose because the pronunciation of book in Chinese sounds the same like losing to someone in a competition. Avoid sharp objects because it can symbolize to cut ties with somebody.

Gift-Giving Manners 

Since the ancient Chinese times it is considered polite in Chinese culture to refuse a given present, often 3 times before a Chinese is willing to accept it. Hesitation is considered to be polite in China, do not be surprised or offended when your present is getting refused but consider it as a common courtesy. If you are given a gift you should repay it with a gift of same value and don’t be surprised if the same happens to you.


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