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gift giving in china

Top Ten Guidelines to Gift-Giving in China

  1. Lavish gift-giving was once an important part of Chinese culture. Today, official policy forbids gift-giving as it can be considered bribery. Though the policy is softening, there may be times when a gift will absolutely not be accepted. Should you find yourself in this situation, graciously say you understand and withdraw the gift. Smaller, less expensive items will not be seen as a bribe, but in any case, you will have to approach gift-giving with discretion.

  2. The Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor when it is first presented, but will politely refuse two or three times to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting something in haste makes a person look aggressive and greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver.

  3. When or if a gift is given, it should be offered with two hands. Any gift offered with two hands should always be received with two hands.

  4. It's traditional to bring a gift when invited to someone's home. Fresh flowers or fruit are your best bet, and it is a good idea to bring eight, rather than the typical Western dozen. Eight is a lucky number. The more expensive the gift, the more respectful, but don't go over the top or you will embarrass your hosts, who may feel the need to go out of their way to return your generosity. It is likely that your gift will not be opened in front of you as your hosts do not want to appear greedy or ungrateful.

  5. Be sure to be fair with your gift-giving: don't give something nicer to the secretary in the office than to the dean of the college, and don't give gifts to one group of students and not another - they will find out. Often, it's better to give something that can be shared, like food.

  6. Never give a clock as a gift. Traditional superstitions regard this as counting the seconds to the recipient's death. Another interpretation of this is that the phrase "to give clock" in Chinese is song zhong, which is a homophone of a phrase for attending a funeral.

  7. Also avoid giving fans. The word fan (shan) sounds like san, meaning scatter or to loose. San kai means to split up. Traditionally, the bride gives her parents a fan, symbolizing that she is leaving them for her husband.

  8. Never give a man a green hat. The Chinese saying "wearing a green hat" means someone's wife is unfaithful.

  9. Gifts from your own country are always welcome and very much appreciated. Don't wrap any gifts from home before arriving in China, as they may be unwrapped in Customs.

  10. If possible, have your gifts wrapped in red paper, which is considered a lucky color. Pink, gold and silver are also acceptable colors for gift wrap. Gifts wrapped in yellow paper with black writing are given only to the dead. Also, check on the regional variations of color meanings - a safe color in Beijing could get you in trouble in Shenzhen. Your safest option is to entrust the task of gift-wrapping to a store or hotel that offers this service.
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