What should I (not) gift to my Chinese friend or colleague?
Whether it’s for Chinese New Year, a birthday, or Christmas, there are certain gifts your Chinese friends may not be overly grateful for. Don’t worry, with our gift guide for China we’ve got your back! Here’s what to avoid:
Watches or clocks
The gift of a clock symbolises that the receiver’s time is running out; it is especially disrespectful to give this to elderly people, as funeral (葬 zàng) sounds like the word for clock (钟 zhōng). Sending a watch as a gift to your partner suggests that your time with them is running out, i.e. you want a break-up soon! But what about a nice Rolex? Good question! An expensive/desirable watch is not frowned upon by the younger generation. We do suggest caution, though, just to be safe!
Chinese people often give apples at Christmas because the pronunciation of Christmas Eve (平安夜 píng ān yè, literally peaceful evening) sounds similar to the word for apple (píng guŏ 苹果), hence the gift of an apple symbolises peace. Apple and pears, hey? Nope, avoid pears! Pear (梨 lí) sounds like 离 (lí) which means to leave or part, so it suggests that you are keen on cutting the time together short.
In the same vein as pears, an “umbrella” 伞 (sǎn) can easily be confused with seeking a break-up (散 sàn). Is it really time to say goodbye? Maybe put that Burberry umbrella back on the shelf.
Unfortunately, shoes also have a negative association as a gift in China. The word for shoe (鞋 xié) is a homophone for bad luck or ‘evil’ (邪 xié). Oh well, you won’t need to bother awkwardly asking for sizes – that’s a small consolation, right?
As was vividly confirmed during our Valentine’s Day street interviews, wearing a green hat (戴绿帽子 or dài lǜ mào zǐ) is a Chinese expression which means that someone is cheating on their partner. Avoid green hats unless you want to suggest a lack of faithfulness!
Chinese ladies prefer their partners not to choose their lip colour for them. This present has become a no-no after the viral story of a girl who received a ‘dead barbie pink lipstick’ from her boyfriend was widely shared online and the boy was ridiculed for his poor lipstick choice. Many commented that they didn’t trust their boyfriend’s judgment on beauty products. Fair enough, no?
Numbers are very significant in Chinese society and unlucky numbers are often avoided in everyday life. Refrain from giving anything in sets of four because four (四 sì) sounds like the word for death (死 sǐ) in Chinese. Awful, right?
Is there ANYTHING you CAN give in China?
Why, of course! There are many things you can give your Chinese contacts, with MONEY being at the top of that list.
Money, money, money
While it may suggest a lack of thoughtfulness or creativity in the West, money the most common gift in China, especially during Chinese New Year. Money is traditionally gifted in red envelopes or hóngbāo 红包. Nowadays, red envelopes are often sent digitally via WeChat or Alipay.
Back to numbers
While you shouldn’t go for sets of four, 8 will go down well! Eight is associated with wealth and luck and -secret tip- wifi passwords in China are often 88888888 (eight x eight). 520 is also very popular. Couples can show off their affection by incorporating it into their present because 520 (wǔ’èr líng) sounds like I love you（我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ).
Don’t worry too much about faux-pas
Whatever gift you go for in the end, as long as you give it with confidence and kindness, it will surely be well received. Happy gifting!
If you’re shopping for a romantic gift for your Chinese partner, check out our article and street interviews on how Chinese people celebrate Valentine’s Day.
For more cultural insights, daily news, and case studies from brands in China, visit our China publication Dao Insights. If you’d like to chat to us about this article and anything else that’s on your mind, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org