GIFT GIVING IN CHINA*
- Gift Giving Etiquette
BUSINESS GIFT GIVING -
PERSONAL GIFT GIVING
Lavish gift giving was an important part of Chinese culture in the past.
Today, official policy in Chinese business culture forbids giving gifts;
this gesture is considered bribery, an illegal act in this country.
Consequently, your gift may be declined.
many organizations, however, attitudes surrounding gifts are beginning to
relax. In any case, you will have to approach giving gifts with
discretion, as outlined in the following points.
you wish to give a gift to an individual, you must do it privately, in the
context of friendship, not business.
Chinese will decline a gift three times before finally accepting, so as
not to appear greedy. You will have to continue to insist. Once the gift
is accepted, express gratitude. You will be expected to go through the
same routine if you are offered a gift.
the presence of other people, never present a valuable gift to one person.
This gesture will cause only embarrassment, and possibly even problems for
the recipient, given the strict rules against bribery in Chinese business
culture. Do not take any photograph of any gift giving unless it is a
symbolic gift presented to the organization as a whole.
Giving a gift to the entire company, rather than an individual, can be
acceptable in Chinese business culture as long as you adhere to the
All business negotiations should be concluded before gifts are exchanged.
Specify that the gift is from the company you represent. If you can,
explain the meaning of the gift to the receiver.
Present the gift to the leader of the Chinese negotiating team.
Do not get anything that is obviously expensive, so that the company will
not feel obliged to reciprocate.
Valuable gifts should be given to an individual only in private and
strictly as a gesture of friendship.
sure that the gifts given to people of the same level of importance are
equitable or of similar grade. Somehow, they may find out later, and the
difference may lead to strains in your relationship.
not wrap a gift before arriving in China, as it may be unwrapped in
possible, have your gifts wrapped in red paper, which is considered a
lucky color. Plain red paper is one of the few “safe” choices since a
variety of meanings, many of which are negative, are attributed to colors
in Chinese culture.
and gold and silver are also acceptable colors for gift wrap. Wrapping in
yellow paper with black writing is a gift given only to the dead. Also, do
check the variations from region to region about colors.
Because colors have so many different meanings in this culture, your
safest option is to entrust the task of gift-wrapping to a store or hotel
that offers this service.
a good cognac, or other fine liqueur
a fine pen [not a pen with red ink--writing in red ink symbolizes
stamps, if the recipient is interested in them [stamp collecting is very
a cigarette lighter, assuming the recipient is a smoker
Often, gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver.
Acceptable gifts for a company include items from your country or city, such
as handicrafts, or an illustrated book. Be sure to bring a supply of these
items with you, so that you can reciprocate if it happens that you are
presented with a gift.
A banquet is usually a welcome gift; since it's likely you will be invited
to one, you will have to follow Chinese business protocol and reciprocate.
In some parts of China, although senior local officials host the welcoming
party, you might be expected to pay for the cost of the banquet. Check this
out and be prepared.
Gifts of food are acceptable, but not at dinner parties or other occasions
where appetizers and meals will be served. Candy and fruit baskets, however,
are acceptable as thank-you gifts sent after these events.
Eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture. If you
receive eight of any item, consider it a gesture of good will. Six is
considered a blessing for smoothness and problem free advances. Four is a
taboo because it means 'death.' Other numbers such as '73' meaning 'the
funeral' and '84' meaning 'having accidents' are to be avoided.
Scissors, knives, or other sharp objects can be interpreted as the severing
of a friendship or other bond. As a gesture of friendship, if you do want to
give these items as a gift, ask your friend to give you a very small amount
of money, such as 10 cents or One RMB in return for this gift. By doing so,
you would have 'sold' it to him rather than given it to him.
following items are to be avoided as they are associated with funerals:
Straw sandals, clocks, handkerchiefs, four of any item [the Cantonese word
for “four” sounds similar, in the same language, to “death”], gifts or
wrapping paper in white, black, or blue.
*Chen, Peter P.W. China Business Etiquette
- Gift Giving. Executive Planet. 30 July 2004
Above: The flag of China