EN-Episode 7: Chinese Gift Giving Customs

Original audio (translated transcript below):

Hi everyone, I’m Kaycee.

Today we are talking about gift giving. Gift-giving is a very interesting culture in China. I go back to China about once a year and every time I go home I start thinking about two months beforehand what I’m going to get my family this time. Gift-giving is a joyful thing, that’s for sure, but it can also be a headache, even maddening.

Firstly, what to give?
Most people in China are more interested in the value of the gift. The value of the gift represents, to some extent, the sentiment of the giver. Beyond the value, it also depends on your relationship with the person, how well you know their preferences, and why you are giving the gift. Then when I go back to China from the UK, I must bring something with a British touch or something that is relatively cheap and good to buy in the UK. The first year and second year back home was easy, buy some chocolates, souvenirs, health products or whatever. After ten years or so, I don’t have any fresh ideas anyway. If anyone has any advice, tips or whatever, be sure to share it.

Some other gift-giving related customs in China include giving some kind of meet and greet gift when elders meet their juniors for the first time, especially young children.

Small beads or medallions of gold, silver or jade can be given to a new born child.

Young people who are about to get married are also expected to give gifts when they meet their lover’s parents for the first time officially, and you can imagine that they will usually give something more expensive, such as a tonic or wine. At the same time, the lovers’ parents also give the young people who are visiting them for the first time a gift. Some give money, others give the woman gold or silver jewellery. If invited as a guest, you can bring small gifts: flowers, fruit, etc. When visiting a sick person, people usually give flowers, fruit and health products as well.Chinese people should not give gifts of.

  • Shoes – implies that the person receiving the gift should be allowed to go
  • Wind chimes – means that your friendship with a friend will be carried away by the wind
  • Clocks – a gift that means “the end”
  • Knife – to say that you are breaking up with someone

If you want to send fruit, it is best not to send pears, as they are homophonic with the word for parting and do not have a good meaning.There are also different customs in different parts of China. For example, in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, you cannot give books because they are homophonic with the word for “lose”.

Another interesting thing in China is that when you give a gift, no matter what you give or how expensive it is, we usually add “It’s not anything expensive, please don’t mind.” / “This is a small token of my appreciation, please accept it”. This is to show courtesy and not to put too much pressure on the other person. The recipient of the gift will often politely excuse himself or herself by saying, “You’ve come, why don’t you have a gift? Then silently take the gift and put it away.The Chinese treat compliments from others in the same way. Everyone is very modest. The response is always: “Not good enough”, “Sloppy, I guess”, “How can I compare with you”. This is also a traditional Chinese virtue. Be humble. For example, a speaker usually says during a speech, “I am not well versed in literature and I am not well prepared, so I would like to ask for your advice”. In fact, ta may be an expert in this area and has been preparing for this speech for over a month.

Hospitality and hospitality: In China, if the host asks the guest what he or she would like to drink, the guest will usually say “I’m not thirsty” or “Don’t bother”. The host will then start to fetch a cup and make tea.

When the host pours the guest a drink, he or she will often excuses himself or herself by saying, “That’s enough, that’s enough”. In fact, it is not necessarily that the guest does not want to drink, but is just being polite. Therefore, it is important for the attentive and hospitable host to gauge the guest’s needs and actively meet them. At the table, the hospitable host is always offering the guest a drink or a dish. The atmosphere is very lively. It is like a game of tug-of-war, where one side keeps on persuading and the other keeps on excusing.

In the end, there is a Chinese saying that says: “Gift is reciprocated. If you give me a gift, the next time you will also give you a gift. So this custom of gift-giving will go on and on in this way.

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