Gift-giving is a popular international behavior in the world. Although perhaps it is little bit stereotypical, giving gift is still much better than many others. The art of gift-giving differs dramatically in different cultures. Most Chinese believe gift-giving as cultural etiquette rather than simple expression of gratitude in Western countries. In China, the gift-giving behavior plays an important role in relations not only in daily life but in workplace as well and it is influenced greatly by the Chinese cultural values.

However, it is significant to understand gift-giving culture in China since any inappropriate gift would lead to unpleasantness with misunderstanding of the culture. Thus, knowing the Chinese culture of gift-giving would allow you to think in Chinese shoes avoiding embarrassment in the future. After all, gift-giving is for best wishes rather than incurring the trouble.


– Social needs

Gift-giving is the best way to build and maintain the guanxi (relationship) among different members of society especially in the first catch up due to the core value of interpersonal relationships model in China’s long history. To the Chinese, gift-giving has probably been immersed in each Chinese’s cells so far. As the daily habit, in other words, giving a gift is more than its real content. For example, it is impolite to visit others without gift in Chinese custom. Also, due to the Chinese tradition, it is necessary to give gift both in festivals such as Chinses New Year and special occasions like wedding or birthday. In the means of necessary form, gift-giving is a bridge to connect different members in the society.

– Specific purpose

Gift-giving, generally in China, represents a need of demands and this relates to renqing (human obligations) which is another Chinese traditional conception. As the saying goes in China, accept undeserved giving (gift) is weak point to giver. In this culture, the one who accepts the gift needs to return something to the giver and the gift is in the name of obligation or debt which must be ‘repaid’ in the future (king, Hwang, cited in Qian et al. 2007). It is an effective way to give a gift when you want to get benefit from others since you will get what you want after giving. For example, it is very common to give gifts to your boss in order to get promotion in the workplace.


Gift 1Comparing the gift choosing between Chinese and Western culture, they both tend to choose beautiful and usefulness items. In Western culture, practical things using in life are thought to be the usefulness items, but in China, people prefer to give money-RMB (cash) called hongbao (red envelope). They put money into a red envelope and this is a very traditional Chinese culture. For example, in the Chinese New Year, the elders used to give youngsters New Year hongbao which will bring luck in the following year. In Chinese wedding people often give hongbao to couples expressing wishes. Also, if someone celebrates his new born child’s birthday, you should give hongbao to celebrate. Moreover, you can decide how much to give and the closer to the person, the more money you would give.

With the development of information technology and the popularity of social media in China, electronic hongbao becomes a new trend instead of the off-line. No matter where you are, with internet, you can use electronic hongbao all around the world without geographical restrictions. It is more convenient for people to use electronic hongbao transferring care and gratitude to their friends and business can develop new promotion through it. It makes closer relationship between people!


When you are considering about gift-giving in China, you have to notice some KEY MEANINGS linked to Chinese culture otherwise it would lead to embarrassment. Here are some suggestions for you when choosing gift in China.

  1. Double Meanings in Chinese

No !

Clocks: the pronunciation of ‘clock’ in Mandarin is the same meaning of ‘death’.

Umbrellas: the pronunciation of ‘umbrella’ in Mandarin is similar to ‘separate’.

Pears: the pronunciation of ‘pear’ in Chinese is the same meaning of ‘separate’.

Green hat: represents someone has a cheating spouse


Cabbage: sending ‘cabbage’ in China means ‘Kung Hei Fat Choy’

Fish: means abundance

Toad: means money and wealth

  1. Color

No !

Black: represents disaster and mourning

White: represents sad and poverty


Red: represents happiness, joy, and luck

Gold: represents nobility and wealth

Purple: represents nobility, immortality and power

Green: represents peace, health and prosperity

Blue: represents vigor and vitality

  1. Number

No !

4: the pronunciation of ‘4’ in Mandarin is the same pronunciation of ‘death’.


3/6/9: represent luck

8: represents wealth and prosperity

  1. Good things in pairs

It is popular to use ‘good things in pairs’ in China, and therefore all the big joyed things and ceremonies prefer to double rather than single.


Qian, W, Abdur Razzaque, M & Ah Keng, K 2007, ‘Chinese cultural values and gift-giving behaviour’, Journal of Consumer marketing, vol. 24, issue 4, pp. 214-228.

‘Related Reading’

China Gift Giving Customs

Chinese Culture: Chinese Gift-Giving Etiquette

The Art of Giving Gifts in China


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