Chinese Gift-Etiquette: What Gifts to Give (and Not Give!)

-Do not give clocks as gifts; they suggest the running out of time and, thus, impending death. The Chinese word for “clock” is “zhōng,” which also means “to end” or “finish”; but is also used as a euphemism for death. Also avoid giving books since the Mandarin translation of “book” is a homonym with a word which means “delivering defeat.”

-Do not give a handkerchief—unless it is meant as a parting gift. The Chinese word for handkerchief (“sòng jīn”) is pronounced like “duàngēn,” a farewell. So to give a gift of handkerchiefs to a girlfriend, for example, could suggest separation. Likewise, towels are given out at funerals, so a gift of towels could conjure up memories of deceased relatives and friends.

-A gift of an umbrella suggests the desire to end a friendship. Likewise, a gift of sharp objects such as knives or scissors suggest a desire to sever a relationship. Similarly, giving a gift of shoes suggests the desire for the recipient to go on his separate way.

-Gifts should be presented and received with both hands.

-Avoid giving items in the colors white, black, or blue because of the association of those colors with death. Like clocks, handkerchiefs, storks, and cranes are also associated with death and should not be presented as gifts.

-Do not give gifts of cut flowers—especially yellow chrysanthemums and white flowers; they are synonymous with death.

-Gifts in sets of four are considered bad luck since the word for four (sì) sounds like the word for death (sĭ).

-Gift-wrapping paper in the colors white or black should be avoided, for those colors are associated with death.

-To avoid appearing greedy or needy, gifts should not be opened immediately upon receipt.

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One thought on “Chinese Gift-Etiquette: What Gifts to Give (and Not Give!)

  1. patrice says:

    Love this article, Wayne! as I always keen on learning the customs of other people and countries; keep up the good work! 🙂

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