Gifts in Chinese Culture
in Chinese Culture by Wong Yee Lee
people have their own culture when it comes to giving friends
or relatives presents.
it is a new-born baby, usually jade or silver bracelet or
necklace would be good, particularly ones which can make
the clinging sound so it will make some noise when the baby
moves. Alternatively, some children's clothes, shoes or
gloves would be good too. When it is an older child, some
toys or stationary would be good.
it comes to some old people, something practical should
be considered. A walking-stick, some valuable food such
as bird's nests or Chinese mushrooms would be highly welcome.
those who go to visit their prospective parents-in-law,
something more valuable would be an option, such as some
good wine or something meaningful.
it is a family, a vase, some dining sets or pictures would
is not easy to think of something special for every occasion.
So very often if it is not of any special visits, some fruits
such as apples or oranges would be good enough.
is important to know that giving someone gifts should not
be a one-way business. Courtesy requires reciprocity. The
person who receives the gift should find a chance in the
future to return the same favour by returning a gift of
similar value the next time you meet. You can do so simply
by either paying a visit with a similar value gift or by
inviting the friend out for a meal with you paying the meal.
Don't do it right on the next day because it may appear
are also some taboos to avoid in Chinese culture. Though
modern Chinese don't seem to mind them so much, it is still
necessary to know what would be suitable in an occasion.
would not be welcome in places like Hong Kong or Macau because
the pronunciation of 'book' in Cantonese resembles the sound
of 'loss'. Especially for those people who are frequent
players in race course or Mark six, they would definitely
not welcome this idea.
would not be welcome in most places in China because the
pronunciation of 'umbrella' resembles separation. Of course
nobody would like the idea of separation, particularly concerning
your loved ones.
would not be welcome, particularly on someone's birthday
because the pronunciation of 'clock' resembles termination,
which means death. No wonder people don't like receiving
clocks as birthday gifts.
you want to give your friends some fruits, remember to buy
an even number of them because odd numbers would bring bad
luck. So buy 10 apples instead of 9.
may find it awkward when your friend says 'You don't need
to buy anything when you come here.', or 'Keep it to yourself.
I have a lot of these'. He may not mean it. What you need
to do is to insist on him receiving the gift since Chinese
people do not tend to receive the gift immediately.
mind it if he doesn't open your present immediately too.
Chinese people would think opening the present in front
of you would be impolite and so they would tend to put it
aside and only open it after you have left.
ideas can only be served as guidelines. Knowing that you
come from a foreign culture and being more broad-minded
to foreign ideas, Chinese people are nowadays more tolerant
to things which are not in line with their culture. So,
don't worry too much when you visit a Chinese friend or
family. Maybe your exotic idea would bring them a lot of
Wong Yee Lee
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