Gift giving has always been a part of Chinese culture. However, like most individuals in Asian countries, Chinese people are very traditional. Although offering gifts is an act of friendship and generosity, lavish presents can sometimes appear to some as a form of bribery. Therefore, if you plan to give a gift to a Chinese businessperson, you must consider certain things to avoid misunderstanding. It is best to offer your gift in private and in the context of friendship.
If you represent a company, it is best to choose a gift that speaks for your office. You should make it clear that the gift is from your company to theirs. The gift should only be presented after all negotiations are concluded, which is the only acceptable way of giving gifts to anyone from the Chinese business community.
Proper Gift Giving, the Chinese Way
- At first, Chinese people usually refuse a gift politely out of modesty. Therefore, you have to insist on giving the gift at least three times because for them, readily accepting a gift makes a person greedy. In fact, it is customary that they do not open their gifts in front of the giver to avoid appearing aggressive or ungrateful.
- Gifts should be offered with two hands and is always received with two hands.
- Try not to embarrass your host by giving overly expensive gifts because they may feel the need to return the generosity.
- Make sure you are fair in gift giving. You should not give the secretary a gift that is more expensive than the gift for the manager.
- Gifts should be wrapped in appropriate color. Red is always considered lucky, but it is wise to check on regional color meanings. What could be a safe color in Beijing can be bad in Shenzhen.
- To be on the safe side, items from your city or country or regional delicacies are always a welcome gift for the Chinese people. If you are presented with a gift and you feel that you need to reciprocate their generosity, these items surely save the day.
Chinese Business Gifts to Avoid
Chinese people give a meaning to a gift by attaching these items to how they sound or how they are commonly used. If the item is connected to something negative, then it is safe to assume that the Chinese people see this item to be a bad gift. Here are some examples:
1. Clocks – The phrase issong zhong which means “to give clock” sounds like the term they use for a funeral ritual. For Chinese people, giving a clock as a gift is like counting the seconds to the recipient’s death.
2. Pears –Giving fruits is always considered a wonderful gesture for the Chinese. However, remember to not include pears in your fruit basket. The word pear sounds like “to separate,” “leave,” or “part from.” Thus, giving pears means you hope that their family will become separated.
3. Umbrella – The Chinese word for umbrella, san, sounds like “loose” or “fall apart.” Giving an umbrella to a colleague or business partner, even if in the form of promotional gifts, can make that person feel that your relationship has ended.
4. Handkerchiefs – Given that handkerchiefs are usually given out at the end of a funeral, it is considered a symbol of saying goodbye like bidding farewell to a deceased person.
5. Knifes, scissors, sharps – Offering anything sharp as a gift implies that you intend to cut the relationship with your business partner.
6. Chrysanthemum – These flowers are used only at funerals or when visiting graves. Never give them or images of them as gifts.
7. Green hats – A green hat means that the wearer’s wife is unfaithful. Avoid giving away green hats as promotional gifts because they are a poor choice even as corporate uniforms.
8. Mirrors – In Chinese culture, mirrors are believed to attract malevolent ghosts. Mirrors are also easily broken, and broken mirrors give bad omen to the Chinese.
9. Shoes – There are several reasons why you should avoid giving shoes as gifts. First, the Chinese word for shoes, xie, sounds like “evil,” which can attract negative feelings. Second, they are something trampled underfoot. Third, if the shoes are small, it could mean “creating difficulty for others.” Finally, giving shoes may mean that the giver wants the recipient to “hit the road” by leaving the business he/she is in.
10. Fans – The word fan means shan in Chinese, which means “to scatter” or “to lose.” To give this to a married person means you wish him/her to be separated from his/her family. It is a traditional custom for a Chinese bride to give her parents a fan, symbolizing that she is leaving them for her husband.
11. Anything white or black – These colors are usually used in funerals. Wrapping gifts using these colors must also be avoided. In cases when the product itself is white or black, such as gadgets, the usefulness of the gift overrides the negativity.
12. Any sets of four – Avoid giving gifts in sets of four because the word four in Chinese is similar to the word death.
Ideal Chinese Business Gifts to Give
Likewise, when an item is connected to celebrations, health, or just about anything wholesome and good, it can be a great gift idea. Here are some examples:
1. Wine – Wines are always an excellent gift because they mean a toast to the receiver’s health.
2. Cigarettes – As long as you are offering cigarettes to a certified smoker, this gift is greatly appreciated because quality cigarettes are expensive in China.
3. Health supplemental products – They are welcomed especially for older people in China.
4. Peaches –Unlike pears, peaches are a traditional sign of longevity.
5. Regional specialties –Chinese people enjoy souvenir gifts that they are happier in accepting a miniature Empire State Building than a bottle of French wine if you are from the USA.
6. Red envelopes – Red is the luckiest color in China, and giving a red envelope with cash inside means good intentions and wishes.
7. Tea – Chinese people are typical tea drinkers. Therefore, a high-quality tea as a gift suits all occasions and purposes.
8. Gifts in sets of six or eight – Giving your gifts in sets of six or eight shows good intentions. The number 6 represents good luck, whereas 8 means prosperity.
9. Chinese dates, peanuts, longans, and lotus seeds – These are offered to newlyweds. These items are considered lucky when offered together because they mean “will get a baby soon.”
Chinese people can be very traditional, but that doesn’t make gift giving in their culture less pleasant. On the contrary, their people are known for generosity, lavish feasts, and most important of all, true friendship that is not measured by gifts but by the sincerity of a gift giver.