Ever wondered what to gift your Chinese friends on special occasions? Whether it’s for Chinese New Year, birthdays, or just a gift of appreciation, it’s important to understand Chinese gift etiquette.

Read on to discover some Chinese gift giving do’s and don’ts and get some suggestions for great Chinese gift ideas.

 

A Chinese family exchanges gifts wrapped in red paper

Giving and receiving gifts is an important aspect of Chinese culture.

Chinese Gift-Giving Etiquette

What is intended to be a nice gift can backfire if you’re not acquainted with traditional Chinese gifting customs. Here are some key considerations before purchasing a gift:

1. Avoid overly cheap or expensive gifts

Chinese culture places a heavy emphasis on 面子 (miànzi, face-giving/saving). Therefore, it is important to consider choosing your gift carefully and to pick a gift suitable to the recipient’s economic status.

Overly expensive gifts can be deemed inappropriate as it puts the receiver in an uncomfortable situation since they may not be able to return the favor with another expensive gift.

On the contrary, you do not want to gift something of low value as you will come across as cheap or stingy. Sometimes, it is not just “the thought that counts”, in which case you’ll want to be aware of the gift’s monetary value.

 

six Chinese red envelopes filled with Chinese money

Red envelopes containing money are popular Chinese gifts, especially for weddings and Chinese New Year.

2. Consider the color of your gift and its wrapping paper

Color symbolism is an innate part of Chinese culture. Avoid black (evil) and white (funerals) and instead go for red (good fortune), yellow (traditional color reserved for the emperor) and blue (healing and immortality). If ever in doubt, always go for red!

 

a Chinese family exchanging gifts

Red is a great color for gift wrap and packaging.

3. Don’t open gifts in front of your gift-giver

Although no longer a matter of great importance amongst younger generations, generally Chinese people do not open gifts in the presence of the gift-giver, so don’t be surprised if the recipient does not open their gift in front of you.

If you receive a gift, it is best to refrain from opening it in front of everyone until later.

 

Two Chinese retirees hold a gift box while smiling at each other

When receiving gifts in China, it’s best not to open them in front of the giver.

4. Avoid certain gifts!

Never gift clocks, umbrellas, scissors and knives, or shoes. Consider the following:

  • “送钟” (sòng zhōng, to gift a clock) sounds like “送终” (sòngzhōng, to attend a funeral ritual)
  • “鞋” (xié, shoes) sounds like “邪” (xié, evil)
  • “伞” (sǎn, umbrella) sound like “散” (sàn, to break up)

And remember, always accept and give gifts using both hands! This shows you respect the other person and are grateful for the interaction.

 

 

a gift tied with a red ribbon

Pay attention to Chinese gift-giving taboos when choosing your gifts.

Gift Ideas for Your Chinese Friends, Colleagues, or Family

1. Fruit

Fresh fruit, especially when gifted at the Chinese New Year, symbolizes life and new beginnings — you will even see fruit used as temple offerings. Fruit is a very popular gift choice and presenting your hosts a basket full of apples, oranges, kiwis and other seasonal fresh fruits is guaranteed to be a hit!

 

a selection of fruit sits in front of a Chinese gift box

Fruit is a great gift choice for almost any occasion.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol is a simple gift that can come in a variety of options! A nice bottle of wine, whiskey or even champagne can go a long way in China.

Foreign spirits may be a better gift idea since they are harder to come by in China, though you can’t go wrong with a nice bottle of 茅台酒 (máotáijiǔ), a famous brand of Chinese 白酒 (báijiǔ, distilled Chinese liquor).

 

four bottles of Chinese baijiu

Maotai is one of the most popular brands of alcohol in China.

3. Tea

Long considered a health drink which was originally only to be enjoyed by emperors and officials, there is a long history and cultural value behind tea in China. Just remember to avoid tea bags and instead gift high-quality tea leaves packed in a nice tin.

 

a selection of traditional Chinese tea presented in small teacups

Chinese tea makes for a healthful and refined gift.

4. Clothes

This is a good gift choice for closer friends and even your significant other. For example, a nice winter set consisting of gloves, a scarf, and a hat shows how much you care for the wellbeing and comfort of the receiver. The perfectly practical yet sentimental gift!

 

a Chinese girl smiling while wearing a grey hat and mittens

Gifting your close friends warm clothes is a great way to show you care.

5. Red envelopes with money

Gifting money in red envelopes (红包 hóngbāo) is a very common practice in China, especially during the Chinese New Year, at weddings, and on birthdays. You generally want to gift shiny, crisp new bills in multiples of 100 and based on a lucky number (such as 200, 800 or 900).

Never place any coins or amounts such as 40 or 400 in the envelope. Remember that according to Chinese numerology, the number 4 (四 sì) in Chinese sounds like the word for “death” (死 sǐ)!

 

a selection of Chinese red envelopes

Avoid offending your hosts by placing a so-called unlucky amount of money in your festive red envelopes.

6. Toys

A great gift for children! Popular options include build-it-yourself robots, plush toys, and electronic or remote-controlled toys.

 

four rows of Lego character toys

Educational toys make a great gift for children or parents with children.

7. Plants

If you want to gift plants, succulents and cacti are a good gift choice since they are easy to take care of, extremely cute and popular.

 

a pot full of fake flowers sits next to an empty plastic flower pot

Plants make a great gift for almost anyone on your list.

8. Gift cards

Many businesses in China offer gift cards — a lot of restaurants, cafes, and massage parlors even offer bonuses and additional free gifts if you purchase a larger gift bundle.

 

Chinese gift cards

Gift cards work well if you aren’t quite sure which gifts to choose.

 

We hope you enjoyed the above Chinese gift ideas! See you soon to learn Chinese in Guilin!