Chinese New Year is around the corner, an occasion of Chinese traditional celebrations, among which is to give gifts.
Compared to western countries, gift-giving in China can be more tricky because Chinese culture is full of mystery and superstitions. Check out the gift-giving etiquette and traditions in China below to avoid “red face” moments.
If you choose the most popular present — 红包 Hóngbāo (a red envelope with money) — this is acceptable on almost all festive occasion and weddings. The only thing you have to avoid is choosing an amount including the number four (四, sì) which sounds like the character for death (死, sǐ). That is why the number four is avoided particularly on phone numbers, license plates, and addresses. For addresses that do contain fours, the rent is usually less.
Some gifts should be off the list, as recommended below:
Clocks. Clocks of any type should be avoided because 送钟 (sòng zhōng, send clock) sounds like 送终 (sòng zhōng), the funeral ritual. This is very offensive, especially for the elderly.
Umbrellas. Umbrella 伞 (Sǎn) sound like 散 (Sàn, separation) in Chinese, which suggest you want to end a relationship with someone, is an absolute no-no between lovers or couples.
Shoes. Shoe 鞋 (Xié) is pronounced the same as 斜 (Xié, evil) in Mandarin, so shoes as a gift will bring bad luck. Also in Chinese, we have an expression – “give someone tight shoes to wear”, with the meaning “make things hard for somebody”, so this is obviously not a great gift choice for a friend.
Anything sharp, like a knife. Knives are always connected with a common saying “一刀两断 yī dāo liǎng duàn”, which means “to make a clear break with someone”.
Hats, especially green hats. “Wearing a green hat” in Chinese means that a man’s wife is cheating on him.
Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemums usually are used to honour the deceased in China.
Mirror. A mirror is not a sign of good auspice in China because it breaks easily. We say “破镜难圆 Pò jìng nán yuán” to express that a relationship can’t possibly be fixed.
As for wrapping your gifts, try to avoid black or white, but use red or gold instead, which signalize good luck, fortune, and wealth. And present your gift with both hands to show your politeness and respect.