Posted in China

Chinese gift etiquette

Like I said before, I’m pretty lacking on knowledge on Asian culture and history… something I intend to change. I’ve been fascinated in my research for my trip as I keep finding more and more interesting things about Asian culture, particularly related to weddings.  It has been difficult trying to figure out what to bring, especially because Chinese people do not tell you what they’d like; they leave it to you to bring what you can/wish. With all the research that I’ve done on proper gifts and gift etiquette for Chinese people, I thought/hope some of you may benefit in the case you ever go to China or visit a Chinese friend or attend a Chinese wedding! Or anything Chinese 🙂

Things I’ve learned since my first post:

1.  Foreigners may find it awkward when told “You don’t need to buy anything when you come here,” or “Keep it to yourself. I have a lot of these” as your host/inviter may not mean it. The Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor when it is first presented, but will politely refuse two or three times to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting something in haste makes a person look aggressive and greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver.

2. Never gift someone a clock. The traditional superstition regards this as counting the seconds to the recipient’s death.

3. Avoid the number 4. The word for four “si” sounds like “death” and is considered a bad omen.

4. Avoid gifting a solid white piece of clothing or wrapping anything in white.   White is the color of funerals in Chinese culture and the family of the deceased will often wear all white.  So to present a person with an all-white article of clothing is to present them their funeral garb, but modern Chinese don’t hold this as much of a stigma as it used to be. Still, better safe than sorry.

5. Giving an apple basket is nice because the word for apple sounds like peace.

6. Try to bring some high-end chocolate, as Chinese chocolate is waxy and lacks flavor.  Anything you can get at a Western market or grocery story will suffice, but specialty chocolate will be sure to leave a lasting impression. Hooray for Godiva (and Hersheys)!

7. High end brand name gifts are very much appreciated (think Coach, Louis Vuitton, Casio watches, etc) but only if affordable for you!

8.  Parker pens are very famous in China, and leather wallets are appreciated. Both are great gifts for Chinese businessmen.

9. The colors gold and red are significant in the Chinese culture.  Gold is the color of luck and things lavish.

10. No red pens! Red pens in business especially means a negative or end to something.

11. Chinese calligraphy art works are also nice gifts, but I’m not too sure about

bringing Chinese art from overseas.

12. A vase is a great gift for those who are moving into a new home.

13. Things with the numbers 3, 8, or 0 are considered lucky.

14. Circles are powerful symbols in the Chinese culture that shows completeness.  Giving something that is round is a powerful way to symbolize giving someone a fulfilling life, a completeness.

15. Anything sweet is often viewed as a wish that someone will have a sweet future. Candies, sweets, cakes, and fruits are great gifts (if you can [legally] get them through customs!).

16. Men really appreciate electronics like digital cameras, iPods, etc. If that’s out of your budget, then no worries.. give what you can.

17. Apparently, Chinese men are not big fans of cologne. Women, however, love perfumes and lotions, so feel free to bring those as gifts.

18. Never give a man a green hat. The Chinese saying “wearing a green hat” means someone’s wife is unfaithful. It also can mean that a person is easily fooled, or gullible.

19. Wrap gifts on red paper or tissue paper. Pink, gold and silver are also acceptable colors for gift wrap. Gifts wrapped in yellow paper with black writing are given only to the dead.

20. A flower arrangement is an acceptable gift, but never give white chrysanthemums, or any white flowers for that matter, as they are traditionally used for funerals.

I hope this helps all you future travelers! I know I’ve left out alcohol and cigarettes, but I’ve done that on purpose (can I really say it’s left out when I just addressed it?). I believe in giving gifts that I would be proud to receive in return, and I cannot give a gift of something forbidden by my religion. It’s possible (and incredibly likely!) to be both Muslim and a great gift giver 🙂

P.S. Always convey how honored you are to be invited/attending, and you’ll be fine!



Enjoy my little descriptions of life and experiences, and feel free to leave any comments and or suggestions!

6 thoughts on “Chinese gift etiquette

    1. You are so right! Everything, from business, to eating, to talking requires lots of patience. We’re so used to ‘time is money’ that we rush through life without appreciating anything or giving each other the full respect they deserve. I’m really looking forward to learning firsthand how life differs in Asian culture.
      P.S. Your blog looks fascinating!

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