China: Gift Giving


Gift Giving

Today, official policy in Chinese business culture forbids giving gifts which can be considered as bribery, an illegal act in this country. In many organizations and companies, however, attitudes surrounding gifts are beginning to relax. If you wish to give a gift to an individual, you must do it privately, in the context of friendship, not business.

Here are other important reminders that can save you from spoiling a business deal:

Choose a gift that represents your company, country, region or town. This should not be something too lavish or expensive.

Don’t be surprised if your gift is declined. You need to insist on giving the gift three times before the recipient finally accepts it.

Never present a gift in front of a crowd, as this gesture only causes embarrassment.

A business gift should be presented to the entire company. This is the only acceptable gift in the Chinese business culture.

Exchange of gifts between the companies should only be done after all negotiations are concluded. This is the best time to give their gifts.

It should be made explicit that the gift comes from the company and is given to the Chinese company. Usually the heads of both negotiation teams are the ones that exchange gifts.

The gift should be wrapped in an appropriate color. Red is considered by the Chinese people as lucky so this is the safest color. Otherwise, you can ask the hotel or a local to wrap the gift. The Chinese culture gives different meanings for every color.

Chinese business gift giving is also particular in listing appropriate gifts.

Acceptable gifts for a company include items from your country or city, such as handicrafts, or an illustrated book. Be sure to bring a supply of these items with you, so that you can reciprocate if it happens that you are presented with a gift.

A banquet is usually a welcome gift; since it’s likely you will be invited to one, you will have to follow Chinese business protocol and reciprocate. In some parts of China, although senior local officials host the welcoming party, you might be expected to pay for the cost of the banquet. Check this out and be prepared.

Gifts of food are acceptable, but not at dinner parties or other occasions where appetizers and meals will be served. Candy and fruit baskets, however, are acceptable as thank-you gifts sent after these events.

Eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture. If you receive eight of any item, consider it a gesture of good will. Six is considered a blessing for smoothness and problem free advances. Four is a taboo because it means ‘death.’ Other numbers such as ’73’ meaning ‘the funeral’ and ’84’ meaning ‘having accidents’ are to be avoided.

Gifts to Avoid

The following items are to be avoided as they are associated with funerals: Straw sandals, clocks, handkerchiefs, four of any item [the Cantonese word for “four” sounds similar, in the same language, to “death”], gifts or wrapping paper in white, black, or blue.

Do not open gifts in the presence of the giver unless your host did so first.