In Western culture, we only give gifts in the office if it’s someone’s birthday or Christmas. And even then those are given outside of the office because it’d be considered rude. Some may even believe there was some ass kissing involved depending on the recipient. Gift giving in China is completely different, and you may need to familiarize yourself with Chinese gift giving before your next big meeting.
Here, Chinese gift-giving is an important part of the culture. It establishes business relationships, and also those outside of the workplace. It’s a sign of respect. But, Chinese gift giving isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are rules, and certain taboos to be aware of. It’s not like giving a pair of pajamas to someone you hardly know for a Secret Santa at your office party.
How to give
Present your gift with two hands, as a sign of respect and the person will take it in two hands as a thank you. Be careful when you’re going into meetings. If you plan on bringing something, make sure you have enough for the whole team. Therefore, make sure to do a headcount beforehand.
Think before you buy your gifts. Don’t give your partner’s secretary a better gift than their spouse. Also, don’t give gifts to one group of employees and none to the other. If this is a problem, give something that can be shared, like a fruit basket. In Chinese gift giving, the number eight is lucky, so keep that in mind, but stay away from the number four.
There’s also gift wrapping. (I told you Chinese gift giving wasn’t so simple.) Wrapping isn’t too difficult, bows and paper are used here also. Just pay attention to the colors that are used, they all have a certain significance. For instance, pink & yellow symbolizes happiness, while gold is related to fortune and wealth. Steer clear of white, black and blue, these three symbolize death in Chinese culture.
A quick tip: If you’re bringing something from home, don’t wrap it before arriving in China. Customs may unwrap it. And I’m sure you don’t want to rush around looking for someone to re-wrap it for you.
How to receive
Receiving is the easy part. But don’t get too excited. As in don’t grab the gift from them too quickly. It’ll show your greediness. There’s a fun “Ah no you shouldn’t have” play, between giver and receiver. In Chinese gift giving you don’t take without saying no first. You can take the present after your first refusal.
Chinese gift giving is a yin and yang relationship. Understand that the kindness of the present should be returned. Even if this is going out to lunch and they pay, the next meal is on you. It will build a healthy relationship between your business partner.
When given a gift it’s also polite to return a thank you card, or email along with your reciprocated present.
What to give
Giving fruit baskets or food is nice. Peaches are a symbol of longevity; it’ll be nice to incorporate them in any fruit basket. Alcohol and tobacco products are also appreciated along with health supplements.
Gifts from overseas go over very well in Chinese gift giving. Most Chinese businesspeople don’t have the chance to travel abroad, so a gift from home is the best present. Thus if you’re coming from abroad, stock up on souvenirs from your home.
Chinese Gift giving taboos
Here comes the tricky part. In Chinese gift giving, you should be aware of a few taboos. Don’t give green hats, as it means that someone’s wife is unfaithful. No watches, no matter how nice they are, or clocks. Clocks have a link with death, which you’re counting the time upon the towards the recipient’s passing. Don’t give them a fan. The word for a fan in Chinese, shàn, sounds like the word, sǎn, which means to scatter or part company.
Be extra careful with the color red. Even though red is a color of luck, within Chinese gift giving its meaning changes. Don’t write in red ink if giving a card, it signifies death, and never write the recipient’s name in red ink as that is bad luck.
Don’t present anything in a red envelope. Within the Chinese New Year, it means good luck, but when it comes to Chinese gift-giving in business, it connotes to bribery. Hóng bāo, or bribes, are company stocks, cuts of profit, or a variety of expensive gifts. So be wary of this when it comes to giving a gift to your Chinese business partner.
All in all, just keep these notes in mind. Chinese gift giving isn’t all that bad. It can result in a great bond between you and your potential business partner. Just remember to be thoughtful with your gifts, but not too thoughtful. Otherwise, a too expensive gift would not go over well.