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Why a clock makes a lousy gift?(Beginner)

Sep. 11, 2012

When you’ve been invited to a social event in China, it’s courtesy to bring a special gift for the host. For this the options are nearly limitless: food, clothes, books etc. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, in China, a clock "钟(zhōng)" should never be given as a present.

In ancient China, "钟(zhōng)" clocks and bells were the symbols of happiness and luck. The ringing of a bell was the sound of luck, which brought happiness, safety and harmony. This incidentally, was the same sound initially used to mark time, but why did the Chinese come to regard sending clocks as taboo?

In Chinese, clock "钟(zhōng)" has the same pronunciation as death "终(zhōng)".To elaborate on their similarities, "送钟(sòng zhōng)" means to give a clock as a present and "送终(sòng zhōng)" means to attend a funeral. It’s easy to see how the two homophonic phrases are naturally connected in the minds of the people and their culture and as such, "送钟(sòng zhōng)" became taboo. At first, people only refrained from sending clocks to the elderly, but later this became a standard practice among all Chinese. At this point, you should be able to imagine the faux pas you’d be committing by sending a clock as a gift. Whether it’s your friend’s birthday, an official’s promotion, a token for newlywed couples, or a housewarming gift, by giving a clock as a gift you would be in effect cursing them.

Keep this tip in mind and avoid making this cultural blunder. You can send just about any gift you’d like, just don’t give a clock "钟(zhōng)" as a present to your Chinese friends.

For examples:

Leo de nǎinɑi qùshì, tā huíqù sòngzhōng le.
Leo 的   奶奶   去世,他  回去      送终     了。


Leo went home to attend his grandma’s funeral.

Péngyou guò shēngrì, Zhōngguórén bú huì sòng zhōng.
    朋友     过      生日,     中国人      不   会     送       钟。


To celebrate a friend’s birthday, Chinese will never give a clock as a gift.


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Our updates Recent articles:

Hi! What if you’ve given a clock because you don’t know the culture? What can you do to make amends?

Thank you.

In China, there is an old saying “不知者不罪 (bù zhī zhě bú zuì)” which means Ignorance can be forgiven. You can explain your good will for giving a clock, they will forgive you.

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