The Do’s and Don’ts of Gift Giving in Chinese Culture

by Joe

In Western culture, the Holidays are a traditional time of gift exchanges as we mark the occasion and share friendship and love.  Found in cultures all over the world, it’s as if the custom was coded in our DNA.  Every culture has certain customs, rituals and beliefs that accompany gifting.  For instance, at this time of year, many people celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem and the gifts they gave to the newborn infant, Jesus.

With a culture as old as China’s, you can be certain that there is depth to the rituals, customs and even taboos that accompany gift giving.  As an outsider to their culture, Westerners should be careful to properly acknowledge and follow the Chinese customs in order to achieve the desired effect.

Let’s review some of the “do’s and don’ts” of exchanging gifts with native Chinese friends and colleagues.


When gifting Chinese children with money tucked away in red envelopes (Chinese New Year), be sure to reflect their age in the amount given. More money should be given to older siblings and less to the younger ones. A gift to an older child or teenager should be enough for the child to buy a T-shirt or DVD.Don’t go “over the top” when giving a gift. It’s important not to potentially embarrass the Chinese if they are unable to reciprocate at the same level.
When giving money inside a red envelope, always use new, crisp bills. Folded or dirty, wrinkled bills are in bad taste.

Be aware of the symbolism the Chinese recognize in sound-alike words and avoid making social faux pas. For instance, avoid anything with a four in it. The Chinese word for “four”, 四 (sì) sounds like the word 死 (sǐ, death).
If you’re an expat manager supervising a Chinese team in China, limit year-end bonuses to the equivalent of one month’s pay.Never wrap gifts in white paper or with a white bow. It’s better to use colors like red, which represents “luck”. Pink and yellow are associated with happiness and gold evokes thoughts of wealth and fortune. White, on the other hand, is a funeral color, associated with death.
If you are going to give a gift in a group setting, be certain that the recipient is the most senior person in attendance. Don’t give a gift to a single person if that person is in a group and you cannot offer everyone else a gift, too.
As with giving business cards, always hand the gift to the person with both hands. This is a sign of respect because the gift is considered an extension of the person. When receiving a gift, also accept it with both hands and say thank you.

Never give a clock as a gift. Traditional superstitions regard this as counting the seconds to the recipient's death
When gifting several people in a situation where hierarchy is relevant, such as a company setting, be sure to reflect the difference in status in what is being given to each person.Never give a man a green hat. The Chinese saying "wearing a green hat" means someone's wife is unfaithful.

With today’s regulations and the anti-corruption campaign best not to give money or an overly expensive gift to any government official.


To wrap things up, Word 4 Asia sincerely thanks all the wonderful people in our network for for the gift of your friendship and support  in 2017.  We look forward to what lies ahead!



Gene Wood

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