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Doing Business in China: Gift Exchanging

By Jesus David Cano Romano
November 10, 2015
Photo byDoran

Effusive gift exchanging was once an important part of Chinese culture. Today, gift-giving is forbidden by law as it can be considered bribery. Even though policy is softening, it is possible that sometimes gift may be refused to be accepted. If this happens to you, be understanding and redeem the present.

If you want to exchange a gift, you should go for small and not too expensive items so it won’t be seen as a bribe. However you will have to approach gift-giving with discretion. Below we review the best practices for Gift exchanging when Doing Business in China.

About the Gift

Usually Chinese people tend to politely refuse a gift, invitation or favor two or three times to show modesty and humility. Accepting right away is a sign of aggression and greed, as is opening the gift it in front of the giver.

• A gift should be offered and accepted with both hands.

• When someone’s inviting you home, it’s traditional to bring a gift. If you want to be on the safe side bring fruit or fresh flowers. Since in China, eight is a lucky number, you may rather bring eight than a dozen, which is typical in the West.

• Your host will very likely not open your gift in front of you as, like mentioned earlier, it’s considered greedy or ungrateful.

• Gifts brought from your own country are always very much appreciated. Rather wrap the gifts in China, to make sure it looks good.

• Different colors have different meanings in China. Red is considered as lucky color, so if you want to make a safe choice you should wrap your gift in red paper. Other good colors are pink, gold and silver. Be careful: gifts in yellow paper are generally for dead people. Also, their might be differences of color meanings between different areas. So if you want to be sure that you pick the right color: don’t pick it. Let somebody else do it, either a store or hotel that offers the service.

• Money in red envelopes is also a common practice in special occasions such as Chinese New Year or Weddings, in which is not uncommon to invite a business partner. For all occasions, certain amounts of money are to be avoided. Anything with a four is best avoided because 四 (sì, four) sounds similar to 死 (si, death).

• The money inside a red envelope should always be new and crisp.

Some extra considerations

Be sure to give everybody an equal value of gift to be fair: be sure if you don’t they will find out. The best option is to give a gift that can be shared with everybody, like food.

Don’t give fans. The Chinese word for it (shan) sounds like san, which again means scatter or to loose. San kai means to split up. It’s a tradition on a wedding that the bride gives her parents a fan which is a symbol for leaving them for the husband. 

Never give a clock as a gift. This can be regarded as counting the seconds to the recipient’s death. Also, the phrase “to give clock” in Chinese is song zhong, which means attending a funeral.