Best Practices for Gift Giving in China

by Crista Busse

Gift giving in China

Christmas is on its way and many people hold gift exchanges with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. However, it is still relatively new to celebrate Christmas in China. Instead, it’s much more common for the Chinese to exchange gifts on Chinese New Year.

This year, the Chinese New Year falls on Monday, February 8 and is also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. It is celebrated for a full week in China. With the Chinese New Year fast approaching, perhaps you want to give a gift to a close Chinese friend.

Chinese gift giving customs

While many Americans exchange Christmas gifts with just about anyone they know, there are some Chinese customs concerning who exchanges gifts for Chinese New Year. Most often gifts are given from parents or family elders to children under 18.

An item that is a must from older family members to children is money in a red envelope, known as “hóngbāo” in Mandarin. It is also common for children to receive gifts of small toys, clothing, or other items they enjoy. Children under 10 years old do not usually give gifts to their parents, but from those relatives who give them red envelopes, the children will formally pay a visit to send their New Year’s wishes. While there’s no direct translation for this act, it is known as 拜年 in Chinese. This is similar to American children who live outside the family home visiting for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Common gifts in China

Normally, friends do not exchange New Year’s gifts with each other. However, it’s common to buy a small item or get a red envelope for a friend’s child. It’s also quite common to visit friends during the New Year celebration. When visiting friends, it’s considerate to bring fruits and other foods with you to enjoy the visit. Small luxury items like cognac are also considered to be great gifts to give.

Gifts to avoid

It’s also important to avoid the embarrassment of sending an inappropriate gift.  Some items could send the wrong message to your Chinese friend. Clocks, for one, signify sending someone to die. Unless you are trying to tell someone that you no longer want to be their friend, it would be best to avoid sending things like knives or scissors. These items signify ending or cutting off relationships. You could end up unintentionally starting a fight if you give your friend a green hat as a gift. This means that your wife is cheating on you. If you plan to stick with the “safe” gift of money in a red envelope, this plan could still go awry. Numbers and quantities can have different meanings as well. For example, in some regions of China, sending money in increments of 4 could be taken poorly because “4” sounds like “death” in Chinese. However, in some regions, it would be better to give 400 Yuan than 300 Yuan.

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Hopefully, this information will help you celebrate with your Chinese friends and family. Remember that Chinese New Year is a celebration and joy of new beginnings and good luck. Happy Chinese New Year!