Whether it is Chinese New Year, someone’s birthday, an anniversary, or even a housewarming party, we know we must show up with a gift. But you shouldn’t give some gifts in Chinese culture! Chinese gifts are a very personal way of saying, “I’m glad I’m here; thank you for inviting me.” We know this because our parents would never miss a chance to miss out on gifts.
However, did you know there is a list of things you shouldn’t give as gifts so you don’t offend people? Because of the huge culture gap between China and the rest of the world, we barely know of this. What you may consider to be a thoughtful gift may mean something else. This can include breaking bonds, severing ties, and worse, even death. Of course, we don’t mean you give them absurdly expensive gifts that may cost a fortune. Just be careful of the following items when thinking of gifting something to your Chinese friends.
Relevance of Chinese Gifts: How To Be Polite in Chinese Culture
Exchanging gifts is an essential part of Asian culture. Yes, Asian culture. Not just Chinese people but people all over the continent of Asia partake in giving gifts. They use gifts to honor their hosts and strengthen bonds with their friends and family. People all over Asia, from Afghanistan to Russia, know the power of gift-giving; China is no different.
Giving Chinese gifts involves using civility, incredibly polite words. In Chinese culture, giving presents during celebrations, special occasions like weddings or housewarmings, visiting the ill, or sharing a meal with someone you don’t know well is usually considered pleasant.
However, some hidden messages are connected to Chinese gifts with their names. You wouldn’t want to bring death or funerals upon a sick person. Nor would you like to tell strangers that you never want to see them again. Don’t make these Chinese gift-giving mistakes.
Chinese Gifts: What You Shouldn’t Gift in China
Necklaces, Belts and Ties
Don’t gift a platonic buddy a necklace as a present. Chinese people believe that accessories like belts, ties, and necklaces play a role in close relationships. Usually, boyfriends, girlfriends, or couples will exchange these things.
Black or White Objects
Avoid presenting gifts that are predominantly black or predominantly white, as well as wrapping paper or envelopes in these hues, as these are typical funeral colors. However, red is always an excellent choice for envelopes or gifts because it is seen as a joyful and lucky color.
Though this one may sound a little funny, do not give pears as gifts. Fruit gifts are a lovely thing, but pears should be off-limits. Chinese peopleconsider pears to be unlucky. Why? The Chinese word for pear (梨 lí /lee/) has the same pronunciation as the word for leaving or “parting” (离 lí). Hence, it is seen as bad luck.
The Chinese do not like receiving cut flowers on Chinese New Year (or any happy occasion!) as they are often gifts for funerals. This is especially true for white flowers and yellow chrysanthemums, representing death. Chinese people consider white to have a bad (funeral) hue in Chinese culture. Hence, avoid exchanging white flower as suitable Chinese gifts.
Chinese New Year presents shouldn’t include shoes. The word for “shoes” (鞋 xié/syeah/) sounds precisely like the term for “evil” or “bad luck” (邪 xié). Additionally, shoes are perceived negatively as presents because you can stomp on them. Always avoid gifting shoes.
Giving something pointed or sharp, like a knife or pair of scissors, is unlucky. Sharp objects symbolize breaking a relationship. “One cut and it is in two halves.,” is a traditional Chinese proverb that describes the end of a relationship. This indicates the end of a relationship between two people.
More Chinese Gifts to Avoid
When an elderly person passes away in China, their children don a hat in sorrow, known as a (xiào mào). So, don’t offer a hat as a gift in China during the Chinese New Year. On the eve of the Chinese New Year, residents of Handan fling old hats into the air. It helps chase away the sorrow.
Particularly, avoid green hats. The Chinese proverb “to wear a green hat” (dài l màozi) refers to a wife or girlfriend who has been unfaithful. If a man receives a green hat as a present, it is the worst insult.
Dolls and Umbrellas
Some regard cloth dolls as “vile figures” (小人literally, “little persons”) that draw evil spirits. Therefore, you should not consider dolls as polite Chinese gifts
Giving an umbrella as a present is a terrible idea. Since the Chinese character for umbrella (伞 sǎn /san/) sounds the same as the character for the breakup (散 sàn). Providing someone with an umbrella might imply that you believe your connection with them has soured. You may think giving your companion an umbrella is a harmless gesture. However, the underlying message is that you want to break up with them. If it is raining and you are worried they will get wet, here is what you should do. It is better for both of you to huddle under your umbrella until you reach your friend’s destination.
Giving a wallet as a gift is considered unlucky. It represents giving away all of your money in traditional Chinese culture. Giving a wallet to your spouse or another family member is okay. Especially if they already have access to your bank accounts and money.
Avoid all clocks if you want to exchange polite Chinese gifts. Since the character for 送鐘 (sòng zhōng, send clock) sounds like the character for the burial rite, 送終 (sòng zhōng). Giving a clock is a subliminal reminder that relationships and life have an end. This is because clocks also represent the fact that time is running out.
Don’t Exchange Offensive Chinese Gifts
There you have it. By keeping this list in mind, you can give any gift to your Chinese friends without having it be awkward! And besides, they will be wowed because of your knowledge of what is considered to be ‘bad luck’ in the art of gift-giving!
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Edited by: Syed Umar Bukhari.