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Giving Gift to Chinese Friends, Family, and Colleagues According to Chinese Culture

Giving Chinese Gifts

Chinese Gift play a major role in not only demonstrating respect to elders and superiors but also showing commitment and enthusiasm toward maintaining close relationships with family and friends. Giving Chinese gifts is guided by principles deeply rooted in the Chinese Culture and you need to learn the art.

This article is for anyone looking to master the art of giving gifts to Chinese friends, Family, Work mates, bosses, Girlfriends, or Inlaws. We delve deep into rules, taboos, and examples.

All of sudden, you are close to going to China for an internship, learning Chinese Language, travel, Teach or even get a full-time Job and then you remember keeping a good relationship with the locals is needed for you to enjoy living in China. The most frequent gift-giving scenarios may be thanking your homestay family, birthday gift, Chinese New Year or even gifts to inlaws. But do you know how to say thank you in Chinese? Aside from knowing about the concept of Face (Mianzi) and avoiding cultural shocks, you will need to master the art of giving in order to make good friends and keep stronger bonds. Several of my friends do ask me what American gifts are best for Chinese and I thought this article will be a great guide for giving gifts to Chinese. This article is a comprehensive guide to giving and giving right according to Chinese Culture.

Table of Contents

Everything You need to know about the Chinese Gift Giving Culture

China has a connection-centered culture, the importance of connections lies in ‘trust.’ People like to do business with people they ‘trust’ as a means to cut business risks, which BTW is a successful strategy. Giving Chinese gifts is vital to maintaining lasting relationships with clients, Bosses and Business Associates. It is also used to keep influence with government officials. Otherwise, it is tough to sustain those relationships.

Chinese Gift wrapped

One may think that gift-giving has too many rules to follow, but we should not be intimidated by all these manners as making a good first impression is always a great asset, you will never get a second chance. Chinese have pride in the sophistication of their culture, and hence they are quite forgiving for foreigners who commit cultural mistakes, and mainly foreigners who cannot speak Chinese or didn’t live for a long time in China. However, giving a well-received gift can get you more appreciation, respect, and support. Presents are after all about the gesture. If you think about the other person and you really put a thought in the present, it will be well accepted and much appreciated. Good luck with gift hunting!

What is a Gift in Chinese? / Translate Gift into Chinese

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a Gift in China is written as 礼物 in standard Chinese characters and transcribed into pinyin as liwu / lĭwù. This is helpful if you want to impress your Chinese friends.

How to Say Gift in Chinese

There are 2 main ways to say “Gift” / “Gifts” in Chinese. Gift in Chinese is translated as 礼物 or 礼品. We have translated the options below with pronunciations and guides.

  • First of all is 礼 品 pronounced as Lǐpǐn ( which means Present, Gift,)
  • Secondly, 礼物 pronounced as lĭwù  (which means, Present, Giving, Tribute)

When Chinese gift is given?

At work, Chinese gifts are given at formal meetings with government officials, as well as when meeting with clients and prospective business partners. You may also present gifts to your close colleagues when they get married, buy a new house or have a child born.

Outside of the working environment, gifts are given on a wide variety of different occasions including holidays, birthdays, Chinese new year, special events, 100-days-old kid, graduating from college, weddings, visiting someone’s house, visiting a hospitalized friend, meeting your Chinese partner’s parents for the first time, returning from travel, etc. Check below for a list of suggested Chinese gifts to give on various occasions and recipients.

Chinese New Year Gifts and Ideas

During the Chinese New Year, gifts are great ways to keep the love, bond and keep relationships flourishing. It is time to show appreciation for the Chinese people in your life and therefore a perfect time to consider ideas for Chinese New Year gifts. The Chinese New Year.

Before buying a Chinese New Year present for a Friend, don’t forget to review the principles above. Consider thinking about the following: Is the recipient very traditional? What’s the level of your friendship? Are you formal or casual friends? As a great gift giver, its good to pause and note that the more traditional the recipient, you should consider sending them Traditional Chinese Thank You Gifts,

These Chinese New Year gift ideas might help you get a little inspiration for picking the ideal gift but before let’s start with some gift taboos and what gifts you should avoid:

Chinese Gift Taboos –

The Dos and Don’ts of Giving in Chinese Culture

 knife is a back luck

Knife is a bad luck
The knife is a bad gift in Chinese

1. Sharp Objects — Cut Off Relationship

Like scissors or knives, giving sharp objects that are used to cut things suggests that you want to sever a friendship or relationship. Rule 101, never give  a knife as a gift to Chinese

Number 4 has the same pronunciation as Death

2. The Number 4 — Sounds Like Death

In Chinese, the number four (四 sì ) pronounced similar to the word for death (死 sǐ). Anything related with 4 is associated with bad luck. So do not give gifts in sets or multiples of four. Other numbers such as ’73’ meaning ‘the funeral’ and ’84’ meaning ‘having accidents’ are to be avoided. Also avoid gifts with 250 numbers because it means ‘dumb’ or with SB characters.

Shoes are bad gifts according to Chinese culture
Shoes are bad gifts according to Chinese Culture

3. Shoes — Evil

‘shoes’ (鞋 xié) sounds like ‘evil’ (邪 xié) in Chinese. Do not buy it for your Chinese girlfriend! As the thought goes, she could use them to run away from you.

Handkerchiefs are not good gifts in China

4. Handkerchiefs — A Symbol of Saying Goodbye Forever

To give a handkerchief to someone (送巾, sòng jīn) sounds like 斷根 (duàngēn), a farewell greeting. This gift could refers to breakup if given between couples.

5. Clocks — Bad Luck

In Chinese, saying ‘giving a clock’ (送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong/) , has the same pronunciation as the phrase “sòng zhōng (送终)”, when the family of a deceased person has completed the burial of their loved one. So clocks or watches are a bad gift. However, there are exception when the clock comes from a very luxury brand or a very high price tag.

Moreover, clocks and watches symbolize the running out of time. This is especially true for seniors. Giving a clock or watch as a gift is the biggest no-no in Chinese culture.

Pear is frowned upon as a gift

6. Pears — Parting

Giving fruit is a good thing, but NOT pears. The Chinese word for ‘pears’ (梨 lí /lee/) sounds the same as the word for leaving or ‘parting’ (离 lí).

Are pears a symbol of bad luck in China? And Why?

Yes! Pears are symbols of bad luck in China. Dont give pears as gifts. As their translated meaning does not mean any good.

7. chrysanthemum Cut Flowers — Presents for Funerals

Cut flowers are generally present for funerals, so do not give them on Chinese New Year! Especially Chrysanthemums and White or Yellow flowers, represent death. While white is associated with weddings in most countries, but not in China, it’s actually the funeral color. Consider the following factors if you want to present flowers as gifts

  • Pay attention to the flower type. The carnation flower is for Mums and not for girl friends
  • The Colour of the flower
  • Consider the Recipient of the Flower

Umbrella is not a good gift in Chinese Culture
Umbrellas are not to be given as gifts according to Chinese culture

8. Umbrellas — Break Up

The Chinese word for ‘umbrella’ (伞 sǎn /san/) sound like the word for ‘breaking up’ (散 sàn). Giving an umbrella symbolizes that the relationship between you and the recipient may soon dissolve.

black or white

9. Black or White Objects — Often Used in Funerals

Black and White are often used in funerals, avoid presents that are largely black or largely white, or wrapping paper or envelopes in these colors. Red is the color of luck and fortune, so red is always a great option for envelopes, or gifts.

Mirror
According to Chinese Culture, mirrors attract Ghosts

10. Mirrors — Attract Ghosts

It’s believed that mirrors attract ghosts. Also, mirrors get easily broken, and when they are, it’s a bad omen.

11. Green Hats – Unfaithful partner

A green hat is a metaphor in Chinese 帶綠帽 (dài lǜ mào, with green hat) that means that a man’s wife is unfaithful or vice versa.

necklace is not appropriate for Chinese friends

12. Necklaces, Comb – for normal friends

Don’t give a necklace (or a comb) as a gift to a platonic friend. Chinese people think things like necklaces, ties, combs, and belts are associated with intimate relations. These things are often given by boyfriends/girlfriends or couples.

stones

13. Ornamental stones with unknown source – evil 

Stones and antiques are attributable to things that are easily attached to the evil spirits.

candles

candles
Candles are for memorizing the dead

14. Candles – for memorizing the dead

Candles are used for sacrificing the dead. Therefore, they cannot be given as gifts.

15. Dolls – refer to xiaoren

The doll belongs to the villain, in the eyes of some people it will bring evil, though this one is not critical, but you might want to avoid it too.

After reading the above, you might be astonished by the complexity and restrictions, don’t worry, there are plenty of good gifts that are well-received in China. Here we go with the best gifts:

List of Good Gifts you Can Present to Chinese

1. Home Specialties

A gift from your home country or regions like a miniature of a landmark or antiques or your country special brands (Cigarettes, wine, cigars, chocolate, candies, perfumes,…) will almost always go over well; especially the sort of gifts that cannot be easily purchased in China or in tourist areas outside China. Many local businessmen (not businesswomen) greatly enjoy smoking and drinking. Therefore making a gift of alcohol or tobacco products from your home country will also be welcomed warmly.

2. Local Wine & Cigars

Wine, or cigars or a cigarette lighter from China are also acceptable. Make sure to choose a well-known brand with a more expensive price tag. Even if the receiver don’t drink or smoke they can re-gift it to someone who does.

3. Kitchen Gadgets

Cooking pots, frying pans, a set of ceramic plates are all well received.

4. Exotic Coffee  

A branded overseas coffee powder of coffee beans is a modern gift that is increasingly well received.

5. Tea: Flower tea or fruit tea

A nicely wrapped box of tea is much better than giving bagged tea for gifts.

6. Engraved Pens 

Whether it’s a nice pen from your company or engraved with the recipient’s name it’s a practical gift that will get used time and time again. Avoid pens with red ink–writing in red ink symbolizes severing ties.

7. A Banquet 

A banquet is usually a welcome gift; since it’s likely you will be invited to one, you will have to follow Chinese business protocol and reciprocate.

8. Clothes

Hat, Gloves, Scarf or Clothes: If you are familiar with your receivers, you can prepare a hat, a pair of gloves, a scarf or some clothes as a gift for the seniors in your hosts’ family.

9. Comb or Foot Bath Massager

In traditional Chinese medicine, massage is a gentle and effective way to repair one’s body. A high-quality comb can be used to massage the head, and a foot bath massager will improve the blood circulation of the feet, which will bring the seniors warmth in a cold winter.

10. School Supplies

Visiting your Chinese hosts with some school supplies like a writing pen, a school notebook or a nice box of painting brushes will give the kids a pleasant surprise, it would be well-received if these were bought from abroad. Books such as enlightening reading materials or one of the world’s great classics, ideally chosen according to the child’s interests, are also highly recommended.

11. Toys

A good-quality toy is also a nice gift for your hosts’ children, such as a Barbie doll for a little girl (Barbie brand is well received, just avoid the non-branded dolls), and a remote control car for a little boy. A chess set or other game is a good gift for a teenager. Make sure you buy toys with no smells because most toys smells are associated with health implications towards kids.

12. Red Packets 

are given for birthdays for Children and senior citizens. Normally 100-200 Yuan. For your parents-in-law, few thousands, ideally 2,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 Yuan. The cash will probably be given back to your Chinese partner, but the parents will feel a great deal of respect for you and a lot of face. Write your name and wishes over the red packet, even in English is fine. Online Red Packets are becoming popular, I normally send an online Red Packet to my wife and my mother-in-law and that make them quite happy.

13. Vitamins and Health Supplements 

These are great for in-laws or in-laws-to-be as Chinese are very health-conscious and love all sorts of traditional medicines and remedies. Recently there have been many health scams about Vitamins and Supplements products, so make sure to have a knowledgeable person to pick the right brand if you go with local brands.

14. Male Hi-end Supplements 

American ginseng, herbal teas or a good-quality multivitamin.

15. Food/Fruit baskets 

Packed full of delicious and exotic fruits, baskets are the go-to gift of choice if you have no idea what to give or if you’ve never met someone before. If your hometown is known for special food, buy several to take along as gifts. Avoid food gifts at dinner parties or other events where meals are served. Packs of nuts and seeds are common gifts in China,

16. Home Supplies

Electrical equipment is common gifts if your hosts have moved into a new house and not long beforehand.

17. Perfume and Lotions 

Fragrances are becoming popular, and lotions and body sprays from good brands are quite appreciated. However, avoid giving hygiene products otherwise the receipt will think that you doubt their hygiene.

Examples of Instances and Occasions of Gift Giving According to Chinese Culture 

Giving Chinese Gifts to Chinese Bussiness Associates 

It is great to give gifts to Chinese Business partners and associates. It is a sign of goodwill and cements your relationships. Some examples of gifts suitable for these recipients are; Home specialties, Local Wine and Cigars, Kitchen gadgets, Exotic Coffee, Tea, Alcohol, Engraved pens, A banquet, and clothes. You can get creative with some of these Chinese gift combinations

Gifts for Chinese Family Members and Seniors 

Consider the following gift types for Chinese families and the Elderly. It could be your mother/father-in-law, brother-in-law, aunties, and uncles. Healthy Tea, Ancient Chinese Paintings, Floral Hand funs, Clothes, home specialties, comb, foot bath massager, health supplements, Food / Fruit baskets, Home Supplies, Chopsticks (reusable), and Red Packets.

The Best Gifts for Chinese Friend

Want to give a gift to a Chinese friend? So what’s the best gift for a Chinese friend? Well, you are thinking right, your friend will appreciate these gifts and treasure your friendship even better. Try these options – local wine, cigars, a banquette, dinner, the latest electronic gadgets, exotic coffee, clothes, fancy pens, perfumes, and lotion, and skin care products are equally great for both genders.  Follow the tips above and you will be just fine 🙂

Chinese Gifts to Give in Chinese New Year (Ideas and Examples)

Tea, Fruits, Home Supplies, tobacco, and alcohol are some of the best Chinese New Year Gift Ideas. These gifts are generic so you cannot go wrong. During the Chinese Lunar new year, gifts are so essential to the entire process of celebration. You may visit your friends and in-laws to celebrate with them, it leaves an indication of warmness.

Gifts to Give when Visiting Chinese Inlaws (Father-in-laws & Mother-in-laws)

During Chinese New Year, and other important festivals in China, there is a special day dedicated to visits to your inlaws. These gifts could come in handy. I suggest Alcohol, Home specialties, artifacts, and tobacco for your father-in-law.

Chinese Gifts Given on Birthdays & traditional Chinese birthday gifts

In China, you can give gifts to people on their birthdays. Here are some suggestions: Red packets, cosmetics, clothes, dinner, mugs with inscriptions, traditionally engraved pens, and body lotions all count. It is important to know the recipient and what works for them.

Gifts for Hospitalized / Sick Chinese

For Chinese friends who are sick in the hospital, it is essential to visit with something. You may with vitamin supplements, fruits like watermelon, orange, healthy snacks, water,

Gifts Given During Chinese Wedding

One of the most important days in the lives of your Chinese friend or family is their wedding day. Dont forget to attend and go with gifts. Some great gifts to give Chinese during a wedding ceremony are: Red packets, Alcohol, and Money. These are simple but can save the day.

Gifts when Returning From Travel

Returning from travel, trip abroad or locally and want to buy some gifts? You can easily find something handy that’s not in China but memorable. usually items that are not found locally will make a great impression on their recipient. Others are coffee, alcohol, tobacco, clothes, cooking items, etc

Holidays Gifts for Chinese

Usually, on normal holidays you are not obliged to give gifts aside from Chinese New Year but if you are showing up at a friend’s home or want to surprise them, then buy the following gifts. Alcohol, clothes, food supplements, Traditional tea set,

Chinese Gifts to Bring along for House Warming

Showing up at a housewarming party in china? Go with the following gifts; bamboo plants, golden bowls, chopsticks, fruit baskets, Vace, traditional Chinese artifacts, etc

Chinese gifts for Good luck

Four-leaf clover, Foo Dog, Good luck Crystals, Good luck pig, lucky cat, Money frog, lucky bells, Prosperity Coin Bells, lucky bamboos. These are pretty great list of gifts and anyone of them will make a good luck gift to Chinese.

Very Typical Chinese Traditional gifts

Four-leaf clover, engraved pen, Foo Dog, calligraphy pens, hanging mats with calligraphy, Good luck Crystals, Good luck pig, Tea, Porcelain, Pearls,  lucky cat, Money frog, Qipao, lucky bells, Prosperity Coin Bells, lucky bamboos.

What is a good gift for a Chinese woman?

Chinese women are very delighted when you give them gifts. But the type of gift depends on the relationship you have with them. Do not give necklaces, belts unless you are very intimate. Casual girl friends or Chinese ladies will accept the following as gifts. qipao – a traditional Chinese cloth for women, porcelain, jewelry, cosmetics and body lotion ( be sure to know their preference), Gift cards,

Now, the above gifts cannot be given on any occasion and to anyone, so I made this Matrix to associate every gift with the appropriate occasion and receiver.

Chinese Gift Infographic

Gift Matrix

Well, the restrictions aren’t over yet, while deciding your gift, you need to use the proper formula for deciding the value of your gift.

The value of Chinese gift 

A person receiving lesser gifts from a friend may think the friend stingy, while a poorer person unable to match the expensive gifts of a friend may feel a loss of Face. Understanding this additional concept is invaluable in maintaining healthy long-term relationships with your hosts, as well as allowing one to understand what gift values are appropriate at a certain time. If you were wealthy, make sure to consider the financial status of your host because they will need to reciprocate it one day, or the gift will just cause a loss of face and financial pressure rather than the happiness you wanted to bring through receiving a high-value product.

Wrapping Gifts for Chinese Friends

After you have select the proper gift, here are few tips for wrapping Chinese

Wrapping gifts

Avoid Using white or black wrapping paper on your gifts. It’s associated with funeral wrapping.

Consider Red
or other festive colors. A plain red paper is one of the few “safe” choices, many other colors have negative attribution in Chinese culture. Gold, Silver and Pink colors may also be used for wrapping gifts. 
  • Gifts wrapped in Yellow paper and with black writing are gifts meant for the dead.  
  •  Also, do check the variations from region to region about colors. 
  • Do not wrap a gift before arriving in China, as it may be unwrapped in Customs.

It’s about to be over, here are few general guidelines over giving and receiving gifts that you still need to know:

Chinese Gift Exchange

The Chinese gift exchange is a holiday tradition celebrated by many families during the winter season. The gift exchange is a way to celebrate family and friends while exchanging small gifts. It is believed that the origin of this tradition comes from an old story in which a man had to choose between three different gifts-a book, a painting, or a sword. The man chose the sword, which represented strength and power. The tradition has been passed down through the generations and is now a popular holiday activity for many families.

General Chinese Gift Giving Guidelines with Cultural Insights

Chinese Etiquette on Gift Giving and Receiving

  • Use Both Hands to present and receive things while saying some good wishes based on the occasion
  • When you are the giver, your host might decline several times, you will have to insist and push hard and I assure you they will receive it. After pushing very hard, if the offer gets accepted, always express gratitude to the recipient. As a foreigner, do not accept a gift on the first presentation. once I offered a gift which was rejected 12 times until my guest took it
  • Unwrapping: do not unwrap gifts when receiving them. Open the gift after you leave, unless the giver insists more than one time. Generally, Chinese do not open gifts in the presence of giver, but this is flexible and may be done under some circumstances. Opening it in public places may put much more focus on the object than the thought
  • Re-gifting: Gifting is almost a zero-sum game among friends, you are expected to reciprocate with similar values. However, don’t expect your customer or the elders to reciprocate equally
  • When you offer a gift to someone with power, they are likely to reject your gift if they wish to avoid helping you later, accepting your gift means they are willing to befriend you and ‘maybe’ help you later, if you don’t know the host very well, better to invite an
  • intermediary who knows the host well to give the gift on your behalf, the host then is less likely to decline.
  • If your to-be-parents-in-law refused your gift, it’s a bad sign, if they accepted it, things are likely to proceed smoothly. Accepting your gift equals to allowing you into the family circle. Show gratitude.
  • Timing: Among friends and family, gifts are presented at the beginning of the meeting or before dinner or lunch. Organizational gifts are given during a toast or at the end of a meal, just prior to departure.
  • For companies that have had a long-standing relationship, a framed painting of your country’s scenery is considered a good, memorable gift. Additionally, small gifts for the senior or key delegation members you are meeting serve as an extra relation building gesture.
  • Price tags: Unlike in the west, it’s perfectly OK to leave price tags and receipts in the bags if it’s an expensive gift.
  • A Bereaved family shouldn’t be visited or gifted if they had the funeral less than a month, as this is said to be unlucky (bringing more funerals in the coming year).
  • 8 & 6: Eight is seen as one of the lucky numbers according to Chinese culture. So next time you receive eight items or money within the ranges of 8, consider it a gesture of goodwill. Six is regarded as a blessing for smoothness and problem-free advances.
  • Keep records of how much money/gifts were received. Some might give unmarked envelopes, so you need to write up the names of the givers because you will need to reciprocate later with similar value.
  • Greeting cards are rarely used in China, so gifting without a card is perfectly fine.
  • Lavish gift giving has been an integral part of the Chinese culture but today, official policy in Chinese business culture forbids giving gifts; this gesture is considered bribery, so be careful.
  • Privacy: For business, if you wish to honor an individual, you should do so in secrecy, and always portray a friendly gesture, not a business one. Otherwise, this will cause embarrassment and possible problems for the recipient, given the strict rules against bribery. A,lso do not take any photograph of any gift giving unless it is a symbolic gift presented to the organization as a whole.

When Giving a gift to an organization or a business,

but not to a specific individual, is acceptable in Chinese business culture under the terms below:

  • All business negotiations should be concluded before gifts are exchanged.
  • Also indicate that the gift is from the company you represent and explain the rationale behind it
  • Always make sure the gifts are given to the negotiation team Leader
  • Don’t present too expensive gifts, so that the company will not feel obliged to reciprocate.
  • Always make sure that staff members of equal rank get gifts of same measure. If they later notice any difference, it will not be taken lightly

Good luck gifts for new business

Give new businesses or entrepreneurs and they will appreciate it. In China, you can buy a calendar, flower pot with a nice cactus, portraits of your friend, nice quotes or even red packets.

These lessons are also applicable when giving during the Chinese New Year or any other traditional festivals

10 Comments

  1. Worked with lots of Chinese and I agree with majority of the information
    Also leaned new things especially the mirror and clock as a bad gift to give chinese

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