April 13, 2020
Ever wondered what to gift your Chinese friends on special occasions? Whether it is for Chinese New Year, birthdays, or just a gift of appreciation, it is important to understand Chinese gift etiquette.
Table of Contents
Chinese gift-giving etiquette:
- Avoid overly cheap or expensive gifts
- Consider the color of your gift and its wrapping paper
- Don’t open gifts in front of your gift-giver
- Avoid certain gifts!
Gift ideas for your Chinese friends, colleagues, or family:
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:
Chinese culture places a heavy emphasis on 面子 (miàn zi, 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.
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!
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.
Never gift clocks, umbrellas, scissors and knives, or shoes. Consider the following:
- “送钟” (sòng zhōng, to gift a clock) sounds like “送终” (sòng zhōng, 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.
Gift Ideas for Your Chinese Friends, Colleagues, or Family
Fresh fruit, especially when gifted at the Lunar 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!
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 (Máo tái jiǔ), a famous brand of Chinese 白酒 (bái jiǔ, distilled Chinese liquor).
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.
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!
Gifting money in red envelopes (红包 hóng bāo) 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 the number 4 (四 sì) in Chinese sounds like the word for “death” (死 sǐ)!
A great gift for children! Popular options include build-it-yourself robots, plush toys, and electronic or remote-controlled toys.
If you want to gift plants, succulents and cactuses are a good gift choice since they are easy to take care of, extremely cute and popular.
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.
We hope you enjoyed the above Chinese gift ideas! We hope to see you soon to learn Chinese in Guilin!