Giving gifts in China

Christmas is just around the corner, and we’ve been wondering whether you’ve already bought all your Christmas presents for your business partners. This led us to today’s blog post about gifts in the People’s Republic of China.

Relationship management is an important guarantor of functioning social and professional cooperation in China. Reciprocal gifts play an important role in this, wherein giving and receiving should be as balanced as possible. This is called a reciprocity culture.

Some knowledge about certain rules and taboos is necessary in order to properly give gifts in China. These can differ drastically from some Western conventions. An inappropriate present can easily lead to misunderstandings and confusion, which can unnecessarily burden a business relationship. The effect of a carefully selected gift for your host can thus not be overvalued.

Rituals, colors and taboos

As a rule, gifts are not immediately opened and examined. The reason for this is that if the recipient doesn’t like the gift, the giver could notice this and become ashamed. The value of a given present also usually depends on the status of the recipient. An owner of a company or a head of a department should receive a more valuable gift than a team leader or a secretary.

The colors white, black and yellow are often associated with death and should thus be avoided if possible. You should be safe with the colors red and gold, as these two colors are often associated with prosperity and luck in China. The sign for the number four is nearly identical to the sign for death, so anything that could be associated with the number four [for example, the number of gifts] should be avoided. What does that mean for you? If you want to give gifts to four people, just take five gifts!

Appropriate and less appropriate gifts

cross-cultural training, china, gift, relationship, faceIn the business world, business partners often only know each other through communication via e-mail and telephone. This makes finding a suitable gift all the more difficult. For this situation, we have a few practical tips for you:

  • Give a picture book of the city or region you come from. Depending on the region, there could even be books available in Chinese.
  • Spirits could be well suited to male business partners. Fine cognacs or regional spirits are appropriate, and whiskeys are also enjoying increasing popularity.
  • Sweets from your region would surely be a big hit, especially when they come with a short story.

We’d like to advise against the following gifts:

  • Watches tend to represent expiring life time. But exceptions prove the rule here as well. If your region is known for clocks or watches, the relation to your homeland is taken into account. And a Rolex would surely never be rejected.
  • Knives could be considered a bad omen for negotiations. Don’t let them sever your business relationships!
  • Umbrellas with your company’s logo should be avoided in China, as they can often be interpreted as you wishing never to see your counterparts again.
  • Green caps and feathered hats should be avoided, because these can be seen as a symbol of cuckolds in China.

Compliance regulations and corruption control are also becoming increasingly more important in the Chinese business world. Excessively valuable gifts are forbidden in China and can lead to corruption charges. On the other hand, your Chinese business partners could take an inferior gift as a sign of a lack of interest. We recommend familiarizing yourself with the company’s compliance regulations and determining the value of your gift based on these.

Now for one final important tip: if no gift is given in return, this causes a loss of face for the giver in China. When traveling there or receiving Chinese visitors, you should consequently always have appropriate gifts on hand.

If you’re interested in other topics related to this, including business trips, project work and contact with Chinese colleagues, we recommend taking our cross-cultural training on China.

Romy Eidam

About Romy Eidam

I am interested in cross-cultural communication since many years. Extensive travels have already led me to Canada, the US, Australia and Namibia among others. While exploring those quite diverse cultures openness and appetite for new things have always been my very good companions. By writing these articles I would like to share some of the experiences I have encountered so far.
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