Lavish gift giving was once an important aspect of the Chinese culture. Official policy currently forbids gift giving since such gestures may be considered bribes. That not only applies to Mainland China but also to Hong Kong SAR. For this reason, approach gift giving with discretion. The policy forbidding gift giving is however softening.
Although it may seem straight forward, giving gifts is an art form. Choosing proper gifts may challenge your perceptions of what is and is not proper.
- Only present gifts on special occasions, for instance at birthdays, festivals, weddings, or when visiting but only after all business negotiations are concluded.
- Small gifts, like wine, tea, candies, cigarettes, fruit, or flowers are good to give as presents. Imported goods have prestige, but do not give anything of too much value, as it will be seen as a bribe.
- Suppliers from Northern China visiting our Hong Kong office, mostly brought tea from their local area with them and we really appreciated that because it was something special.
- Present a gift to everyone in the group, or to the group as a whole, never to just one person. If not, give the gift to the most important person in the room.
- If you wish to give a gift to an individual, you must do it privately, in the context of friendship, not business.
- Do not expect that the gift will be accepted right away. Usually the Chinese will decline a gift three times before finally accepting it, so as not to appear greedy. Once the gift is accepted, express gratitude. You will be expected to go through the same routine if you are offered a gift.
- It is impolite to open a gift in front of the person who gives it to you. Chinese are brought up with the idea that gifts should be unwrapped after the guests have left. This idea has however also softened and most Chinese business people are aware of the different customs of gift giving in other countries. Therefore, just ask if you are allowed to open it and no harm will be done.
- If possible have your gifts wrapped in red paper, which is considered a lucky color. Plain red is one of the “safe” choices since a variety of meanings, many of which are negative, are attributed to colors in Chinese culture.
- Pink, gold, and silver are also acceptable colors for gift wrap. Wrapping in yellow paper with black writing is a gift only for the dead. Also, check for variations from region to region about colors.
- Never give something written in red ink as it implies the end of the relationship. Avoid white as it is associated with funerals.
- Do not give clocks as gifts because they are also associated with death. Refrain from giving knives, scissors, letter openers, etc. These imply the severing of a relationship.
- Avoid giving things to people in groups of four. 4 or 14 are very bad and mean death. The pronunciation of the Chinese word four is very similar to the one for death.
- However, 3 means longevity and 8 means wealth/prosperity.