Gift Giving Etiquette in China – Taboos and DOs to Avoid Awkward Moments

Steep in cultural traditions, the etiquette of gift giving can differ a lot between the west and China. Some gifts popular in the west might be big taboos in Chinese culture. For instance, white colored gift or gift wrapped in white is a taboo in China as white is usually considered a funeral color and reminds people of death. The same also applies to flowers. Seldom do any people send white flowers. Fruits are also great gifts and enjoy prevalence in China; however, a cut pear is a big taboo as pear has the same pronunciation with separation in Chinese. And a cut pear, is usually considered as serving a friendship. Knowing some taboos and dos of gift giving etiquette can help avoid causing awkward moments when doing business in Guangzhou.

Taboos

Giving clock as gift in China is a great taboo
Giving clock as gift in China is a great taboo

1. Do not give clocks to others as in Chinese sending clocks means “送钟”(songzhong), which has the same pronunciation with “送终” (songzhong), meaning to attend the funeral of someone dead.

Giving shoes as gifts in China
Giving shoes as gifts in China

2. Do not give shoes to others as gifts. In Chinese, shoes “鞋”(xie) has the same pronunciation with “邪”(evil). There is also a popular saying goes in China that if you give shoes to lovers, then they would break up soon.

Giving knives as gifts in China
Giving knives as gifts in China

3. Do not give knives and other sharp objects in a total of four as four is pronounced as “death” in Chinese.

Giving wok as gift in China
Giving wok as gift in China

4. Do not give a wok to others especially people in Guangdong province (Canton) or Hongkong as in colloquial Cantonese wok is usually referred to as a small disaster. The recipient would think that he/she has to take the blame for something that has already gone wrong if given a wok.

Giving green hat as gift in China
Giving green hat as gift in China

5. Do not give a green hat to Chinese men. A man wearing a green hat usually refers to the fact that his wife is cheating on him and has affairs with another man.

Dos

Giving crystal as gifts for wedding in China
Giving crystal as gifts for wedding in China

1. For weddings, money put in red envelope(hongbao) is the most common and safe. In addition, crystal or glassware are preferred as they symbolize bright future.

Giving pen as gift in China
Giving pen as gift in China

2. For business setting, a pen or a small box of candies that best represent the giver’s home region never goes wrong. If you are thinking of giving a pen, one thing you should pay attention to is that do not send pen in red ink as it symbolizes the separation of a relationship.

 

Giving money as gift in China
Giving money as gift in China

3. When sending gifts to a family, you should know the notion that in Chinese Confucian society, newborns and the elder represent the continence of the family. For newborn babies, eggs dyed in red are the most common since eggs represents life and the color red is usually associated with happiness. For elders, they usually celebrate their big birthdays on their 31, 41, 51, 61, etc as it is considered as a very important year in the circle of lie. On that special day, families would gather together and send gifts of eggs, long noodles to represent long life, red money packets, etc.

 

Giving chocolates as gifts in China
Giving chocolates as gifts in China

4. Things from the giver’s hometown such as chocolates, clothing, etc that can be seldom found in China or in the neighborhood are usually highly appreciated.

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