Are you criticizing my gift? (Elementary)

Christmas, or “圣诞节 (shèngdàn jié),” is on its way! Department stores, shopping malls and supermarkets all over China are adorned with decorations and are blasting holiday song favorites. The crinkling of wrapping paper echoes through hallways as people begin to prepare gifts for their loved ones; and the fierce stone beasts that guard city banks seem a bit merrier than usual. So, have you made your gift selections? The perfect gift to buy for friends, relatives, children…it can be all a bit overwhelming at times, and that’s without having to tiptoe around cultural taboos. So though you may have a knack for giving in your own country, what might you consider if you lived in the “middle country” this year?

Chinese are very careful when giving gifts. Colors, quantities and local customs are all taken into consideration. Furthermore, one should pay special attention to the pronunciation of certain gifts, as we all know that the wonders of Chinese tones can add as much superstition as they do uniqueness to the language. A present’s name resembling an undesirable meaning could make your good-intentions turn into a gift giving disaster. Let’s take a closer look at several gifts to think twice about before wrapping-up.

1. 钟 (zhōng)

钟 (zhōng) means clock. 送钟 (sòngzhōng) literally means to give a clock, however, the sound of the word is the same as 送终 (sòngzhōng), which means tending to a dying parent or senior member of a family. So, in China, never send a person a clock…especially the elderly.

2. 杯子 (bēizi)

杯子 (bēizi) means cup and has a similar pronunciation with 辈子 (bèizi), which means one’s whole life. Lovers might send each other a cup to express their happiness at accompanying each other for a lifetime.

Recently however, an online Chinese buzz word, 杯具 (bēijù), which literally means cups and tableware, has become popular among the young because the sound of 杯具 (bēijù) is the same as 悲剧 (bēijù), which means a tragedy, or a sad and unfortunate story.

Do you dare send your lover a cup? Don’t worry too much about it. If you have a good relationship then your true intentions will shine through. In this context, generally speaking, not many will misunderstand. If you have doubts, add a small card along with the cup to show your good will and wishes.

Words explanations:

(1). 杯 (bēi) As a noun, it means cup.


Wǒ yǒu liǎngge bēizi.
我    有    两个   子。
I have two cups.

As a classifier, it means cup of.


Wǒ yào yìbēi kāfēi.
我   要   一杯  咖啡。
I’d like a cup of coffee please.

(2). 一辈子 (yíbèizi)A similar sounding noun that means the period of one’s whole life.

Nǐ ài wǒ ma?
Lucy:你爱  我  吗?
Do you love me?

Ài, wǒ huì ài nǐ yíbèizi.
Mike:爱,我 会 爱你 一辈子。
Yes, I’ll love you as long as I live.

(3). 杯具 (bēijù)Another noun with the same character “杯 (bēi)” as in cup (杯子). It means a sad or tragic event.

Ài,  bēijù (bēijù)   le!
Li Hua:唉,杯具(悲剧)了!
Oh no, what a tragedy.

Zěnme le?
Li Lei:怎么   了?
What’s wrong?

Wǒ de qiánbāo diū le.
Li Hua:我   的    钱包    丢 了。
I lost my wallet.

3. 苹果 (píngguǒ)

苹果 (píngguǒ) means apple. 苹 (píng) sounds the same as 平 (píng) in the word 平安 (píng’ān), which means “safe” and “secure.” Although, Christmas is not a traditional holiday in China, nowadays, young Chinese prefer to buy apples as gifts for their friends and relatives on Christmas Eve, or “平安夜 (ping’ān yè).” On this day, apples reach their highest price, showing their popularity. They are used as gifts to express good wishes, safety, and security. Sending your friends an apple on Christmas Eve (平安夜, píng’ān yè) seals your best wishes neatly in an edible package.

4. 梨 (lí)

梨 (lí) is “a pear,” however in Chinese, it’s not so easy to define since 梨 (lí) has a similar sound with 离 (lí), which means to depart. In China, occasionally you will see people send their friends pears, but never will you see a pear cut into halves 分梨 (fēnlí): the exact pronunciation as 分离 (fēnlí) meaning “to separate.” Though it’s unlikely to happen, if you’re ever in China, don’t take pear halves as a gift – instead, try a sliced apple.

5. 伞 (sǎn)

伞 (sǎn) is an umbrella. Its pronunciation is similar with 散 (sàn) meaning break up in Chinese. Suffice to say, lovers and even friends in China tend to open their own wallets when buying umbrellas.


1. What does the sentence “我的生活太杯具了。 (Wǒde shēnghuó tài bēijù le.)” mean? _____

A. I have a lot of cups.                      B. There is so much tableware in my house.

C. My life is such a tragedy.              D. My life is all “cups and glasses.”

2. Christmas is coming; Tom wants to give his Chinese friend Li Hua a present for Christmas Eve. Which of the following is the best choice? _____

A. A pear            B.  An umbrella         C. An apple

3. Why do people usually avoid cutting a pear into halves in China? ____________

A. Because it implies friends will separate from each other.

B. Because a whole pear is best to eat.

C. Because it’s too difficult to cut a pear.

D. Because they don’t like to share with others.

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