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Five Things You Should Know about Chinese Gift-giving!

Dec. 24, 2014

Christmas and the New Year are coming. Have you picked gifts? Trying to find the perfect gift to buy for friends, relatives, children etc, can be a bit overwhelming at times, and that’s without having to tiptoe around cultural taboos. 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, the Chinese tones can add as much superstition to words as they do uniqueness to the language. When a gift shares its pronunciation with a word that has an undesirable meaning, your good-intentions turn into a gift giving disaster. Let’s take a closer look at some rules that you should take into consideration when you are preparing gifts for Chinese.

First, in China, it is customary to regard even numbers as being more auspicious than odd ones.
Chinese people prefer things in pairs and most of them believe in the saying, “好事成双 (Hǎo shì chéng shuāng),” which means “Good things should be done in pairs.” So, gifts are given in even numbers. The number 6 sounds like the character “溜 (liù),” which can mean that ‘things will go smoothly,’ hence it is considered lucky. The number 8 has a pronunciation similar to the word “发 ()”, which means ‘to become rich,’ so eight is considered very lucky. However, the number “4,” despite being even, is a taboo in Chinese culture, because “4 (sì)” sounds like “死 ()”- death, which is quite inauspicious for these celebrations.

Second, to be safe, wrap everything in luck.
Traditionally, Chinese prefer “红 (hóng) ” – “red,” because red is the color of celebration, good luck and joy. You might find that lucky money is put in red envelopes and the ornaments of spring festival and wedding days are mostly red. Compared with western people who regard white as “purity and cleanness,” Chinese people don’t like white since in China, “white” is the color of grief and poverty. You can find that mourning halls are usually decorated with white ribbons and white paper flowers. Moreover, black is the color of bad luck, symbolizing disaster and bereavement. For example, people attending funerals usually wear in black. 

Third, some taboo gifts should never be given.
Never give “钟 (zhōng) a clock” as a gift. Since in Chinese, “送钟 (sòngzhōng)” and “送终 (sòngzhōng)” which means to attend upon a dying parent or other senior members of one’s family, are homophonic. "伞(sǎn) umbrella", sounds like the word  "散 (sàn)," which means to separate. Giving an umbrella symbolizes that the relationship between you and the recipient may soon dissolve. “绿帽子 (lǜ mào zi) Green hats”, specifically, should be avoided because of the phrase, "戴绿帽子 (dài lǜ mào zi) to wear a green hat," which is used to express that a man's wife is cheating on him.

Fourth, be patient, open the gift later.
It is considered polite in Chinese culture to open the gifts after you leave. When you receive a gift from Chinese people, do not open them in front of the givers unless they insist, or you may simply ask, "Can I open it?"

One more thing: Do remember to remove the price tag.
A gift with a price tag is a hint to the receiver that the gift is expensive and they will feel as if they are expected to give something of equal price in return.


1. Which of the following things is a good Christmas gift for a Chinese friend?

A. Umbrella
B. Pear
C. Chocolate

2. Which of the following is considered inappropriate in China?

A. Opening gifts immediately after receiving them
B. Removing the price tags when giving gifts
C. Wrapping gifts in red paper

3. If you are selecting a birthday gift for a Chinese elder, which of the following things should you NOT buy?

A. A clock
B. Tea
C. A Chinese painting

See Answers

Chinese Culture

General Chinese (Beginner Level)

General Chinese (Intermediate Level)

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