Giving gifts is an important aspect of Chinese culture, and Chinese people exchange gifts much more frequently than people in the United States generally do. In Chinese culture, it is appropriate to present gifts to your business partners, customers, guests and hosts, and these gifts can be exchanged in a variety of circumstances. If you would like to welcome a Chinese person with a traditional gift, do some research first so you pick something appropriate.
Welcoming People to Your Home
If you are welcoming people into your home and would like to present them with a traditional Chinese gift, consider a basket of apples. The Mandarin word for apple resembles the word for peace, so this gift is friendly and appropriate for any guest. Be sure to present your guest with an even number of apples, because odd numbers represent bad luck. Never present your guest with four of anything, because the number four signifies death in Chinese culture. Once you offer your gift to your guest, be prepared for him to decline it at least two or three times. Traditionally, the Chinese consider it polite to decline your generosity. Do not give up after your first offer. You should also not expect your guests to unwrap their gifts in front of you, if they are wrapped. The Chinese think it is rude to open gifts in front of the giver.
Welcoming People to Your Country
If you are welcoming Chinese people to your country for the first time, you will probably want to present them with a more significant gift. After all, they traveled quite a long distance to meet with you and you want to show them that you appreciate their efforts. If you are welcoming Chinese business partners, it is appropriate to present them with fine liquor, tobacco, chocolates or specialty gourmet food items. If you want to present your Chinese guests with something particularly fine, a nice pen or bookmark would fit the bill. If you are welcoming Chinese people to your country for personal reasons, consider presenting them with a handmade gift. The Chinese, like most people, value things that are one-of-a-kind. A handmade gift shows your guests that you think their visit is special and should be commemorated.
There are some gifts that are always inappropriate in traditional Chinese culture. You should never present guests with a white gift or a gift wrapped in white paper because this is reserved for funerals. Avoid offering any type of gift in increments of four, such as fruit or flowers, because this number also symbolizes death. Do not offer Chinese people chrysanthemums, because these flowers are funerary. You should also never present a Chinese person with a clock because the word for clock resembles termination. Do not give your guests an umbrella, because the pronunciation for umbrella resembles separation, and do not give your guests knives, which also represent severing.
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Elizabeth Hannigan began writing freelance articles in 2005. Her work can be found in "Orientations" magazine. She holds a Master of Arts in art history from the University of Delaware.