Giving gifts is part of ancient Chinese culture; offering them is a sign of courtesy and good manners, although this custom was only in the private sphere. In the government sphere, gifts are illegal to avoid possible bribes, and there is some circumstantial flexibility in the business and political spheres.

Although this consideration of bribery is no longer widespread, it is possible for someone to refuse a gift (even out of habit, as will be explained later) or to be unwelcome. Some people or groups will not change or adapt to certain changes.

A banquet is the most acceptable if you want to make a gift. An excellent way to give away is an invitation to eat; Generally, this invitation is a form of welcoming. If we are invited to a meal, we must reciprocate our hosts by inviting them to a similar one. This way of reciprocating is a way of following Chinese protocol and being polite in responding to their attention.

Otherwise, we must bear in mind that Western-type gifts are highly appreciated, and more so those that have to do with some traditional or typical gift from the country of origin; that is to say, the best accepted to give to a company are the crafts of our country and the books that speak of the customs, history or geography of the same; (or the region or area from which we come). Additionally, it requires a clear message regarding the type and company we represent. Nothing to give doubts. If in addition to making the gift, we can explain its meaning, which is much better for them. In this way, they find a more excellent justification for it.

Among the most recommended gifts to make on our visit to China, we can indicate the following:

  • If you live in Europe, Cognac or French brandy, whiskey, or any liquor typical of the country;
  • Quality fountain pens or ballpoint pens;
  • Lighters and cigars;
  • Desk accessories, such as calculators or other small electronics for the office;
  • Books of History, Folklore, or Art (better if they refer to our country);
  • Small framed paintings and small sculptures;
  • On certain occasions, a seal could be part of the Chinese hobby;
  • The ginseng is a detail that they appreciate. Above all, if the country of cultivation is our country of origin.

Among the gifts that are not recommended, we can mention:

  • Nothing to do with coins or cash;
  • Cheese is not usually in their diet and, therefore, not a treat they appreciate. It is not a food that they like very much;
  • Wine is also not a very appropriate gift for reasons similar to the previous one;
  • Giving them a basket of fruit means poverty. Even if you have a good friendship, fruit is not a good gift;
  • Just as 4 is a number related to death, the number 40 should not be referred to, and therefore, nothing related to these numbers should be given away;
  • Do not give anything in green (a green shirt, a green hat, etc.). Any clothing that is green means to them that someone in the family has committed adultery;
  • It is discouraged to give watches if the recipient is older. It is a hint that he has little time left to live. The word “clock” implies death, burial, or funeral;
  • Other gifts associated with death or funeral themes are straw sandals and handkerchiefs;
  • Scissors, knives, paper knives, and any other cutting object could insinuate the cutting of relationships or friendships;

There are significant differences between negotiating with private companies or doing it with official organizations and entities. The first ones are much more receptive to changes and adapt better to novelty. In both cases, if we are going to give away, we must do it with enough discretion. The Chinese usually reject the gift at first and can reject it up to three times, but if you insist (because they do it out of courtesy, not to seem eager to receive something), they will end up accepting. Once they accept our gift, they will visibly show their gratitude. In return, it is easy for them to want to reciprocate with another gift. If they do, also out of courtesy, we will have to do a “ritual” similar to the one they do; reject it at first, and accept it after a second or third offer.

We also have to differentiate institutional gifts from individual gifts. Suppose the gift is institutional, from company to company. In that case, it is likely that, for the Chinese, there should be something for everyone, and gifts should not be given only to some of the components of the representation. When gifts are given to an entire group, a negotiation team, or a specific delegation, we will not distinguish between them. Everyone should receive the same type of gift.

If we wish to give a gift to a specific person, it should not involve a personal level, and we will do it in private with discretion, taking care not to inconvenience the rest of the staff. A single general gift for the entire representation must be given in the presence of all. The best thing would be to give it personally at the company’s facilities; the highest-ranking boss or executive; to the highest-level representative of the delegation or leader of the negotiating group with whom we have contact since they have a fairly rigid hierarchical scheme and it would be incorrect to give it to a person of lower status. It is shown to everyone, even if it is only given to the representative or spokesperson. On the other hand, it is better to ensure that we bring enough gifts to reciprocate surprise attention for our visit.

Likewise, if we need to improve the relationship with a delegation, it is allowed to give a small gift to each one, in the order in which they were presented to us. Remember that China’s precedence is very important and deserves much attention.

Gifts are given with both hands and received in the same way, as a ritual that represents an “offering.”

Although it is a custom in the West, photographs of the gifts should not be taken, not even as a souvenir. No photos are taken of the facilities (at least without asking permission). If a gift is given at a general level for the entire representation or company and you want to immortalize the moment, we can do it if the hosts grant permission.

Another recommendation, perhaps the most important, is never to give a gift of great value because it would embarrass the recipient. It always has to be of a moderate value. The reason? There is an order of reciprocity, implying that we force the other party to make the same monetary effort. Usually, an expensive gift will be considered offensive by our eastern counterparts.

Starting by giving away things of value is a significant misstep; Initially, small details are given away. When the negotiations have concluded and a good business relationship has been established, we can think about making some corporate gift of some value.

Another consideration: when going through customs, Chinese officials tend to carefully check all the packages that we try to introduce into the country, especially those that contain food, and they do so with considerable curiosity. If they ask: What is this? or how does this work? We must give as detailed an explanation as possible. They like these explanations.

Small objects almost never cause problems; however, objects of great value could be taken as contraband.

Likewise, wrapping the gift before arriving in China is not recommended, as we will surely have to open it at customs control. We will likely have to unwrap them to display their content. If you have to take the gifts packaged, make it an easy-to-open package. After passing the appropriate inspections, we will do the good packaging at the hotel.

And, in relation to the wrapping, it is as important as the gift. On the one hand, it shows the interest we have placed in it; on the other, the color can give the wrong message. You have to avoid black, white, or blue representing death.

The best color to wrap the gift will be red, which is the favorite and represents luck. Other colors safe from special connotations are pink and gold. If the wrapper is yellow with black letters, it also means something related to funerals and death. However, the colors may have a slightly different meaning depending on our location. With the rest of the colors, you have to be very careful because, in China, most colors have a special meaning.

One of the best options to avoid trouble is to have the gifts wrapped in a store or a hotel unit.

In addition, there are certain superstitions about numbers. A gift with the number eight (eight flowers, eight cups, eight saucers, etc.) symbolizes good luck. For them, the number 6 is the number of concords, which helps solve problems or setbacks and smooth out tense situations. In addition to 4, other prohibited numbers are 73, which means funeral, and 84, which means misfortune, prone to accidents. If you have any doubts about a number, it would be wise to ask to avoid any compromising situation.

As the Japanese (by the way, better not to talk about them, it is not uncommon for them to have a special dislike for them), the Chinese do not open gifts when they are received. Most gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver. They have a habit of opening them in private. However, many business people and executives who know Western customs could open them in our presence as a courtesy.




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Writer by Claudia STOHMANN R. de A. Communicator, speaker, writer, etiquette, and protocol expert. 

16 June 2022, Bolivia 

Category: Business Etiquette 

Reference: CS16062022BE    

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