(NOTE: This is NOT my only post on giving gifts. Before making your final purchase, I recommend visiting my Holiday Gift Roundup Post, where I’ve collected all the links to my gift-giving advice in one place.)
I thought I couldn’t go wrong with the American ginseng root. My coworker Grace — a Chinese girl who doted over me like a mother, despite the fact that she was a few years younger than me — had helped me pick it out. “Her parents will love this,” said Grace as she handed the package to me. The ginseng was displayed in red and gold foil packaging with a matching bag. It was elegant and auspicious — surely the perfect gift for the parents of Mandy, my Chinese tutor who invited me to her home to spend the Chinese New Year in 2002.
But then, days after my arrival at Mandy’s house, I went with her family to visit her grandma and grandpa. There was Mandy’s mother carrying a surprisingly family ginseng package. Wow, they have the same ginseng here in her city, I thought. Until it hit me — Mandy’s mother was re-gifting my gift to her in-laws, right before my eyes. It turns out, the ginseng made them feel too old.
Gift giving has been a lot less painful since I married a Chinese man. I know the basics (avoid white, don’t give clocks, etc.). And I’ve bought more business gifts (think pens and bookmarks) than I’d care to write about.
But knowing what not to get doesn’t get the shopping for your Chinese family done.
So, I’d like to share how I get my shopping done — with recommendations for gifts for the Chinese family.
(NOTE: I call this a “Modest Guide” because I couldn’t begin to cover every single gift possibility — or, for that matter, every single region of China! But if I can help you, then this post was worth it.)
Any adult in your Chinese family:
Fruit baskets. This is my go-to choice whenever I have NO idea what to get! In China, fruit baskets are always sure to please, whoever you’re buying for. Almost any large supermarket in China will have fruit baskets on sale. See my post 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China for guidance on fruit baskets and other gift baskets.
(P.S.: If you’d like to send one to China from overseas, make it easy by purchasing from Gift Baskets Overseas. Disclosure — I’m an affiliate for this company.)
Snacks: Western-style pastries, such as sweet rolls or sweet croissants, are a nice treat. Don’t bother bringing them from overseas if you’re coming in to visit; I have an easier time finding these in China than traditional Chinese pastries. Visit vendors in the food court of a major shopping center (Bread Talk is one to try), or try supermarkets such as Carrefour, Wumei and Hualian.
Most Chinese love local specialty foods (土特产) — especially if you’re visiting them after travels around China, or live in a Chinese city far from them. For example, my husband’s hometown makes a great smoked tofu, and I give this gift to people of all ages, all over China. Many come in gift boxes available in the supermarkets, or from specialty food vendors (often located in the basements of malls or shopping centers)
You can also bring local specialty foods from your country too, provided they don’t give you too many headaches with airport security. Just don’t bring them your country’s chocolate in the summer — unless you want to present them with puddles instead of presents.
Remember, if your recipient is more elderly: keep it soft. Grandma and grandpa may have a lot of love for you, but (at least for mine) not so many teeth.
For the younger set, reach for some more sophisticated — and crunchier — choices, from Starbucks products to specialty chocolates.
(If you’re interesting in sending a sweet gift basket over to China, head over to Gift Baskets Overseas. And, as a disclosure, I’m an affiliate.)
Chinese tea: Premium teas — especially those from outside the recipient’s hometown — make great gifts for people of all ages. They often come in gorgeous containers, with matching bags. Best place to buy is a teahouse or tea store in China, such as Tenfu’s tea or the Huangshan tea company.
Chinese Grandparents (外婆，外公，爷爷，奶奶)
Chinese traditional herbal medicines: Deep in every Chinese supermarket is an aisle almost as fascinating as a trip to the carnival. Lamb’s placenta. Spirulina. Royal jelly. Swallow spit. Nutritional wines. All packaged in boxes too beautiful to throw away — a forest scene from a scroll painting in red and gold foil; a Qing-dynasty emperor perched silently on his throne; traditional Chinese script from a classic book.
There’s nothing that says “filial” quite like these nutritious herbal medicines and supplements. Just make sure you’re choose a healthful and effective one, instead of the fake supplements my father-in-law took. Buy from a large, established supermarket such as Carrefour, Wumei or Hualian.
Multivitamins and supplements: These score high on the “filial” meter. They also usually come with names in English — helpful for any foreigner dazed and confused by Lamb’s placenta or royal jelly. You don’t even need to buy them in your home country either. My preferred choice of vitamins in China comes from the brand By-Health (汤臣倍健) — you can purchase them online on Taobao and also find them in most major supermarkets.
(Avoid): Clothing: This summer, my husband and I made the mistake of buying bright orange college T-shirts and sweatshirts for grandma and grandpa. “Why did you waste your money?” said grandma. While she usually says that when we give her any gift, we probably did waste our money on these shirts.
Seniors in China don’t wear clothing outside of the indigo-gray-black-brown spectrum. Clothing might work if you stick to super-drab colors. But why bother? Chances are, grandma and grandpa will find the clothing’s style too strange for them anyway.
Chinese Parents (老爸，老妈 )/Chinese Brother-in-Law or Chinese Sister-in-Law
Gifts for Chinese parents depend on their age. Are they retired? Over 55? See my recommendations for Chinese Grandparents.
For younger Chinese parents (or a Chinese brother-in-law/Chinese sister-in-law), here are some ideas:
Bath and body products: Luxurious lotions and perfumes for her; cologne for him. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these gifts. Many are available in China — Watson’s or duty-free stores — but your family may love something special from abroad. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law loved the Bath and Body Works cologne and perfume we bought them a few years ago.
Clothing: T-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps from your local university or sports team work great for men, and just about any color is fine. But don’t bother for the ladies. I’ve yet to find the same ultra-feminine fashions in the US.
Books: Foreign language learners will love a good read. The choice depends on their interests and language level. Two I might recommend for advanced English learners are The English Fluency Formula and English the American Way: A Fun ESL Guide to Language and Culture in the U.S.
Young Chinese Children
I only have one 8-year-old nephew, and very little experience giving gifts to Chinese children for the holidays. But I stick to one of three choices: toys, a special sweet snack or pastry, or a hongbao. The hongbao is a red envelope filled with an auspicious amount of money, given to Chinese children during Chinese New Year.
What about you? What gifts do you usually give to your Chinese family? What gifts have been a hit — or a miss?
P.S.: Don’t forget — please also see my Holiday Gifts Roundup Post for more advice on gift-giving. In particular, have a look at 7 Great Chinese New Year Gifts Sure to Impress Friends, Family and Coworkers as well as Gifts to Buy Abroad for Chinese Family and Relatives.
P.P.S: Still stumped? I’ve created a hand-picked selection below of gift baskets to China from Gift Baskets Overseas sure to please most any Chinese friend, family member or colleague. Just click, buy and let Gift Baskets Overseas take care of the rest! (Disclosure — I’m an affiliate for Gift Baskets Overseas.)
Cookie Country to China
Unique Treasures to China
Holiday Chocolate Tower to China
The Love for Chocolate Holiday Tower to China
The Tower of Happiness to China
Wine Sophistication to China
Fruity Poinsettia and Chocolates to China
Fruits and gourmet basket to China
59 Replies to “Giving Gifts to Your Chinese family – A Modest Guide”
You know how they say married couples fight over three things – money, sex and the kids? In my marriage “gift giving” will trump all of those. I have learned so much in this area over this years, and every single lesson was painful. Here are my thoughts.
Sweets: Good idea to suggest buying ones made in China for the Chinese palette. I have spent hours laboring over cakes and cookies, only to have my in-laws or friends reject them as too sweet. Even if I cut the sugar in half! And forget about gifting American treats like Oreos or Reese’s peanut butter cups – those are definitely too sweet. Other flavors to avoid: licorice or mint-flavored chocolate.
Re-gifting: It hurt my feelings so badly the first time someone in my husband’s family re-gifted something that I had carefully chosen just for them. But I had to get over it. I learned to stop spending so much time choosing a gift that was perfect for them. Instead I started focusing on gifts that could be easily re-gifted! Gloves for example are a good gift that can be easily re-gifted if necessary. Brand-name handbags are another, as well as high-end moisturizers. Lipstick is bad, as are shoes, foundation and anything monogrammed. In the end I realized that re-gifting isn’t meant as an insult to the giver, and it doesn’t mean the recipient wasn’t grateful. And people do it the U.S. as well, they just try to hide it a little more.
Cigarettes: This one is tough! Naturally I don’t want to encourage people to smoke, but if I know someone is a smoker and they will spend lots of money on tobacco, and if I’m going to give them a gift anyway and I want to give them something they can really use, well, cigarettes are perfect. They’re light and easy to transport, they won’t go bad. And they can be easily re-gifted!
For kids: Lego’s. They’re so expensive in China. And all the kids here I know love them.
Avoid: Skin-bronzing products. It would be like giving an American a product that would turn their teeth yellow! 🙂 (On a side note, I am forever perplexed by the fact that Americans are obsessed with whitening their teeth and Asians are obsessed with whitening their skin, but neither has infected the other with their obsession.)
Thanks for the great comment — excellent suggestions.
Good point on the sweets. It’s so true that American sweets are usually way too sugary for the Chinese palate. I have given some chocolates here from the States, but not very many — at least, not enough to get a sense that they were overly sweet for Chinese.
Your point on re-gifting is so insightful. Now that I think about it, I have seen others in my Chinese family re-gift things.
Nice kids’ suggestion. You know, I did buy Legos for my nephew this summer…but not realizing they were so much more expensive in China. Good to know.
And good call on the skin-bronzing products. That one slipped by me! I guess the whole idea of “milk-white skin” has been permanently ingrained into my consciousness after hearing way too many Qingchun Bao ads (æ›´ç™½ï¼Œæ›´ç»†ï¼Œæ›´å…‰æ´). 😉
You’re right about the vitamins thing. I know some of my wife’s co-workers who comes to the States from China for the first time and the first store they go to is GNC. Also, my wife’s co-workers from China like us to buy vitamins in bulk, namely from costco.
Along the same lines as vitamins, fish oil supplements are pretty big right now. On re-gifting – I think it’s much more openly accepted in China than in the U.S. When my mother re-gifts, she will often tell her recipient that the item was a gift from someone else.
About the re-gifting, my experience is that it’s extremely common, quite acceptable, and part of the social “grease” in parts of Chinese society. In fact, this subject of re-gifting causes me to wonder if the Chinese invented it! I also wonder if it’s ever been studied by any sociologist (my geeky academic side at work). The re-gifting culture has ended up helping us here, since we’ve been given alot of things we neither can use nor have space for in our luggage going home, and it’s handy to re-give when you are taken to dinner (etc.) by yet another person, as a show of thanks. I won’t go into the countless (and sometimes bewildering) examples we’ve experienced here, but suffice it to say, you are likely helping out your relative, even if they re-gift the item you give them, since there’s always someone they’ll need to give a gift to!
I appreciate the post/suggestions! =) Your knowledgeable perspective on this topic is great help.
I love your guide! I am a very white girl who has just married into a very traditional Chinese family. They visited us (my mother in law, her mother, and her aunt and uncle) a couple of weeks ago, and as much time as I spent fretting over whether my house was clean enough, the beds were firm enough, whether I was saying and doing everything I could to make them feel comfortable… what they liked best about their visit was the fresh melon and oranges I served for snacks and dessert. When they left for the train station, I packed some sliced honey dew and watermelon for their trip. I guess I did the right thing, because they told my partner how much they appreciated it!
What I gained from this experience was to stop fretting so much about WHAT I’m giving… they appreciated the effort, and that I was thinking of them ahead of myself, more than anything!
(A side note, my mother in law was most offended when I kept offering to pay for things!)
I need help! I need to buy a gift for the children of someone who is helping us in China. They are an 18 year old girl (heading to college) and a 14 year old boy. It needs to be small because I am sending them with a friend who is lugging a ton of other stuff to china. I have no idea what to buy. I was hoping to spend less than $25 on each of them. I have received suggestions for 4GB thumb drives (easy enough) or North face backpacks (too expensive!). Any suggestions would be much appreciated!
Thanks for the comment.
That’s a tough one, but you definitely don’t need to spend more than $25 on them.
Often I buy something more local, such as gear from the local university bookstore — people often love to have something from where you live in the US. If you wanted to go that route, you could get them some nice T-shirts, perhaps a baseball cap for the boy. If they have branded USB drives, with the university’s name, those would do nicely. Ditto for local sports teams.
There are some neat, quirky electronics out there — you might check out some of the ideas from Brookstone (obviously, thinking about smaller electronics that might be useful to the kids). Additionally, Brookstone has some fun luxury items the girl might enjoy (and actually fit well within your budget).
Hope these suggestions help!
What about gifts for the wife or fiancee? (I’m American, she’s Chinese).
Also, I love the re-gifting; if you believe that the gift is in the giving, it shouldn’t matter to you what someone does with it after you give it (except for very expensive items, I suppose).
@corvidae, thanks for the comment. I could see why they loved the fruit so much — in China, giving guests fruit is considered an important part of hospitality. Whenever I go to a home in China, almost immediately people will offer fruit. When a relative was recovering from a hospital stay, my mother-in-law also offered her fruit to show the family cared.
Not surprised your MIL was offended when you offered to pay. 😉
@Tim, thanks for the comment.
Hmmm, gifts for your wife or fiancee? I bet my colleague Crystal would have far better suggestions, but I’ll give it a try.
Chinese women are crazy about nice bags — doesn’t have to be LV or Coach, as long as they look classy. Perfume or lotion (many Chinese women love the brands sold in airport duty-free shops, but I’ve also bought even Bath and Body Works for women before). If you know a specific product she likes, foreign cosmetics would work. Jewelry makes a great gift. Electronics from the US are excellent too, b/c they’re often more expensive in China — I know of one guy who bought his Chinese girlfriend a digital camera for this reason.
Hope this helps!
my son in law’s brother who is the oldest is marring a gal from China. Her parents are here for the wedding… I was wondering what would be good gifts to give them and for the bride..
my daughter is the maid of honor and her children flower girl and ring boy… it is a small wedding.. her father is the only child and she is the only child so….only her parents are here.
Her fathers mother is still alive and so is her mom’s sister who is careing for the older grandmother though not her reletive.
Should I send special gifts for them as well? And what would that be?
Thanks for any help… the wedding is soon! They are here now..
Thanks for the comment!
Most of the gift-giving in China is money in red envelopes, presented to the couple (who then usually give the money to their parents to cover the cost of the wedding) — though a small number of people may give the couple things such as bedding, sheets, or things for the home. As I understand it, there is no tradition of giving gifts to the parents of the bride, or to anyone else in the family.
So, for the bride — if there is already a bridal registry, just buy her something off her registry, as it will probably be something for the home.
For the parents (and anyone else from China over 55), they might actually appreciate high-quality supplements, or herbal products (such as fine Wisconsin ginseng), or even something such as premium teas. You can find great possibilities at places such as Whole Foods and other natural foods markets, or, for something such as ginseng (and teas) by going to your local Chinatown or Chinese market (I recommend Prince of Peace brand).
I got really confused after you mentioned “my daughter” and all of the family relations — are these people from China or Chinese? If they are, keep in mind they wouldn’t be expecting any gifts at the wedding, because the gifts or money will go to the bride/groom and their parents. You can always just give them simple things, according to my suggestions above, but nothing too opulent as you don’t want to outshine the bride and groom in gift-giving.
We have adopted a couple of Chinese student at our local college that are participating in an exchange program. Every time we meet up with them the Boy and the girl always has some sort of gift for us. My wife and I are curious to know if we should be giving gifts back to them. We are learning about the Chinese culture and would love to hear some suggestions.
Hi T Mosley,
Sorry for the delay in responding, it’s been SUPER busy these days.
The Chinese students are giving you gifts because you have adopted them and, thus, are acting as hosts, so they want to show their appreciation for this. Yes, the best way to say “thank you” to them in return would be to give them a gift in return.
I would start with some of your local specialty items — maybe even local specialty foods. Chinese often give these types of things as gifts in China (b/c local specialties vary from place to place) and they would probably enjoy discovering the flavors of the place where they go to school. To give you an example, in Ohio (where I’m from), one of our local specialties was chocolate-covered peanut-butter balls called “buckeyes” (after the Ohio State Buckeyes). Or where I am now, in [State], we have, for example, things like gourmet smoked trout, potato fudge, chocolate-covered huckleberries… you get the idea. (And all of the things I suggested here could be bought for $10-$15, so not so expensive either).
If you really want to get fancy, put the gifts in nice little gift bags or boxes (could be even the bag/box with the gift) — in China, people usually prefer to give gifts in nice bags and boxes (it’s a face thing). Just make sure the bag/box isn’t white, because that’s the color of death.
Good luck, and let me know how things go!
I want to give a gift to my grandma. She’s Chinese and I don’t know what to give her. She got watches, she doesn’t like sweet stuff. She has lots of tea and practically everything you said on the guide. Please help. Her birthday’s in about 2 days.
Hi Felicity, thanks for the comment.
If your Grandma can’t use ginseng or teas or vitamin supplements, I’d consider a couple of options.
–> Cosmetics. If she likes certain cosmetic brands or products, you could buy her some.
–> Nice clothing or shoes.
Additionally, you might get some inspiration from my more updated gift guide from last year.
A gift in China is really a important tool dose’t it?
I am a Filipina, im going to china to marry my chinese boyfriend. i need some help regarding what gift to give to his family.
Thanks for any help..
Hi Tin Tin,
I would recommend you check out my more updated gift article, which might offer a little inspiration on what to buy: https://www.speakingofchina.com/ask-the-yangxifu/gifts-buy-abroad-chinese-family-relatives/
My English son is getting married to a Chinese lady. What would be the right gilft to offer her parents.
Thanks for the e-mail. When I got married, my Chinese in-laws gave my family gifts including jade, knit scarves, fine green tea and smoked tofu. Why such gifts? They’re nice and also reflective of the products from their region. Maybe you can find similar nice, local gifts from England to give to her parents.
I might just have to do a post on this b/c I keep getting a lot of questions on this topic.
Hi there hope you can help.
We are a new business and have been using a chinese supplyer for our
Stock. Our contact in china has been so helpful, and we would not be wherewe are without him. I was wondering if it would be ok for us to send him a small gift to say thank you for xmas or chinese new year and what would be an appropriate gift? Also, we wouldnt want him to feel he has to send us something in return. Hope u can help. 🙂
Thank you for all your posts, I am going to teach ESL/EFL in China in the upcoming year and it’s been great to know what bosses and colleagues might like!
I do still have one question though, and no one seems to know (or has posted information online), so maybe you can help me out. I would like to get gifts for my classroom of students- nothing big or elaborate, just trinkets or maybe candy, enough so everyone could have something. I’m not sure of exact ages, but I believe they will be late elementary/middle school aged. Any ideas on what I could bring? I’m from San Antonio, TX, and was thinking of bringing things that are related to the area- Alamo themed things, cascarones, fiesta items, etc.
Firstly compliments on a very well written and invaluable blog post.
I will be visiting my to be Chinese inlaws this chinese new year (year of the dragon)
One of the apprehensions i have is that being a dark skinned man pleasing my to be in laws seems a bit daunting, as for a fact i know that my inlaws would loved to have their daughter marry a white skinned westener.
Apparently doing so would raise the damily status greatly.
Anyway i have taken upon me to impress them with other qualities i possess and a careful selection of gifts.
Here’s what ive planned
Mother in law – bath & beauty products from crab tree and evelyne
Father in law – video cam corder
In laws together – Traditional chinese herbs + modern vitamins from GNC
Sister in law – Guess watch and perfumes
Brother in law – Cologne and leather briefcase
Niece – Just over a year old – Toys from Mothercare
Thank you! This was very informative!
We just became a host family to a young Chinese college student and while the Organization sponsoring the program took care of gifts at the airport, I was pretty sure that we needed to have some gifts too. I was in Europe a couple of months ago and picked up some lovely soaps. Would those be a good gift? Also since she will be living with us for six months, what kind of timing would be appropriate for gifts?
Hi, I have met the most beautiful person (not just physically) who is Chinese, she is from Beijing. Just being in her presence is so wonderful. I am in the middle of a divorce and had a few dates with her (she is herself 10 years divorced).
She said at the time that I was still too raw from my own breakup and she just wanted to stay friends. That was a month ago and I have not seen her since, but there is literally not an hour that goes by that I do not think how wonderful it would be to be with her.
In the last month I have come so far in realizing what I want and that is too have her in my life. No matter what I have to do.
So I want to see if I can ignite a spark, I want to show her that I care, so I thought that if I was to do something that is culturally significant to her thart this might say more than just getting something cliche.
The last few years have been hard for me, I have been financially ruined, she is well off, I want to say that I will get back to where I was despite the additional demands that will be made on me because of child support etc.., even if this is not important to her, it is to me.
I love her because she is so warm hearted, so modest, so caring (she seems to get me more than I get myself). I am so fearful of offending her, or worse scaring her. First and foremost I want to be her friend just to be there for her
I know that it might seem a little trite, but I cannot think of anything better than sitting with her talking, breaking bread
Do you have any advice
It depends how much you want to spend and also the relatonship of the gift receipent with you. sometimes, a small gift is enough, sometimes, send somthing valubale is needed espercially is the receipent is your important customer.
I am so glad to find this site. Before my question, let me give background. 9 years ago, we hosted a high school exchange student from Hong Konk in our home in WI for a year. We bonded with this young man and have remained close. We consider him our son, and he calls us mom and dad. He went to college in the US and is now living in CA with his wife [also from HK] and new baby. We just returned from a trip to meet our new ‘granddaughter’. At the airport, our son gave us an envelope and said, “Open this later.” When we did so, there was a large sum of money and a note that said, “This is a gift – expected of a good Chinese son, don’t over think it.” OK, we get that giving money to ‘older’ parents is part of tradition, although this young family needs it much more than we do.
But here’s my question. The New Year and Jack’s birthday are coming soon, and we were going to send some money for the baby – but would this be weird since his gift occurs so close to the other events? Thanks for your wisdom on this.
@Nancy, I think money for the baby is very appropriate b/c it’s tradition to give what’s called yasui qian to the children in the family for New Years. But that said, if you have a good relationship w/ Jack, I wouldn’t overlook his birthday either. And if you are giving money to the baby, I think since Jack is like a “son” to you (and by extension, his wife like a daughter), you could also give him and his wife some money too for Chinese New Year, as even my inlaws will give me and my husband money during Chinese New Year (and we’re certainly not little kids anymore…well, unless you’re considering the age in our hearts…;-)).
“Why did you waste your money” is a pretty blunt response to an unwanted gift!
A couple of days ago (before I read your excellent, informative article), my daughter’s friend sent me a quick Facebook message. Her good friend was having breast cancer surgery the following day and she was the anesthesiologist. Her friend is Chinese-American, and she wanted to give her a token of hope that was uniquely Chinese. Did I have any suggestions? It was the day before the Mid-Autumn Festival, so I suggested mooncakes. Fortunately she was able to find some at an Asian market in the American city where she lived.
I hope that was a good suggestion. And I hope her surgery went well.
I need help with gift giving also. My family and I have been living in Northern CHina for the last 5 months and still have very poor Chinese. There are a few people that work in our neighborhood to whom we would like to show our appreciation (they are always looking after our kids!) They are strangers really, but we would like to show them some American love hehe. Can you help me? They are older men and women.
Hi Iliana, fruit baskets always make nice gifts in China, so I would consider giving those to your Chinese neighbors. You can usually find fruit baskets at larger supermarkets.
I’m so glad I found this blog. I just found out that the house directly across from ours has been sold to a Chinese man. I went over and introduced myself to him a few days ago, and although his English is quite good, I’m not used to the accent and might have missed some of the things he was trying to say. Last night he came over and gifted me with a lovely bouquet of flowers, and I think he said it was because I’d made him feel welcome. How sweet! He plans to bring his wife and daughter over to America after he has fixed up the house. What I would like to know is if there are any American social practices I should avoid lest I offend our new friend. When he gave the flowers, for example, I wanted to hug him, but thought that might be too forward. Conversely, are there any Chinese social practices I can put forth to better relate to Binwei and his family? Thank you for any advice you might have to offer. I really want to do what is right.
The most important thing I had to get accustomed to when I married into a Chinese American family close to 30 years ago is the mind frame of giving instead of receiving…
In American culture the concept has always been “what are we going to get” for holidays and our birthdays.
But on the day of an older Chinese individual’s Birthday, instead of them receiving from others, they in turn do the giving and money is handed out by them to family members in traditional red gift envelopes. I found that the single most significant “traditional” gift you can give on holidays such as New Years and YOUR birthday, is a gift of money in one of those envelopes. If you really want to go along with tradition, when your birthday is coming up, hand out these envelopes with $20 each inside to the immediate family members.
Secondly, you have to always remember that older generation Chinese that came over from the mainland during, or just after war time, are very simple and practically minded. So when trying to give to them, simple is almost always better. If you’re going to give flowers, giving a plant that bears a fruit or vegetable is always significantly more appreciated than cut flowers, which are often considered undesirable and wasteful to the older generation.
Not may people realize how tough times were for people back then when villages were over run by Japanese soldiers. I have heard many stories over the years at the dinner table of families fleeing attacking soldiers and being forced to hide and live in caves in the mountains.
During those years, the idea of having even a simple meal that included meat was a luxury for many older Chinese adults. So actually bringing food as a gift, such as a good cut of beef, or chicken and a few pounds of freshly roasted pork from a traditional Chinese Market, is usually always welcome, as is a box filled with traditional buns such as pork buns. A bag of oranges will go over well and be considered kind gifts.
The simple things in life are always appreciated and received gratefully. Even a few yards of nice fabric can often be considered a very nice gift to some.
In my years in my family, I have found my Chinese family members to be the most practical and generous family orientated people I have ever known. Anyone that has, or is , fortunate enough to be accepted as part of a Chinese family, very quickly realizes that the have become part of something very special.
This made me laugh so much! Especially this part: “Deep in every Chinese supermarket is an aisle almost as fascinating as a trip to the carnival. Lamb’s placenta. Spirulina. Royal jelly. Swallow spit. Nutritional wines. All packaged in boxes too beautiful to throw away — a forest scene from a scroll painting in red and gold foil; a Qing-dynasty emperor perched silently on his throne; traditional Chinese script from a classic book.”
I’ve started dating an Asian guy quite seriously and just going through the ritual introductions to the family as well… It’s quite nerve-wracking but very glad to have you ladies on my side! He’s also given me multiple reassurances that his family will love me, but personally I think it’s gonna take some work and patience to really gain their trust and acceptance. Thanks for the gift advice!
Is it okay to bring hand and feet creams to my family ? They work outdoors or in factories, and quite far away from large cities. I have bought hair care products from L’Oreal Paris when I was inFrance, the bottles look so glamorous in gold !
I have French chocolates too, maybe too sweet but in a nice box representing Champs Elysees etc
What do you think? Thank you!
I have noticed that bringing good Belgian beers, chocolates, etc… always do well 😀 And I make my own jewellry, so when I see my mother in law wearing something and I know what her favorite color is I fabric it myself. They like people that can craft stuff…
My brother in laws and nephews, everything that is something with robots and co, I’ll always ask my partner advise, cause there I’m at a loss :p
Thank you for sharing your ideas! Belgian beers and chocolates sound wonderful, as well as homemade jewelry!
As an American who has been residing in China for five gears, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on gift giving. It is so refreshing to read the replies and comments from all of the folks you have helped. I am sure that your good will is is contributing to an improved image of all nonChinese who have friends that are Chinese or who have married into a Chinese family. Having mentioned the importance of image, is it possible to edit your posted article to remove the title of the book regarding the learning of English? My limited experience at a Chinese university, Jocelyn, has taught me that many Chinese may be offended by language that implies cussing and unfortunately it might generate a negative impression of the gift giver and the country they are associated with. I really don’t beieve it adds any quality to your article anyway, so you will gain more via its omission as opposed to leaving it in.
Hi Al, thank you so much for the comment and your feedback. I’ve updated that section and replaced the title with two new ones I’ve come across recently that would serve English language learners well.
Meeting my boyfriends mom in December (70, from Shanghai) not sure what I should gift her. She’s considering moving to America (says she’s getting lonely in China) I definitely want to make an amazing impression because he and I are already talking marriage. I’m majoring in Asian Studies and will be enrolled in Korean language classes and I’m going to work on my Chinese too. Any other tips for someone her age?
Hi Kaid, first I would check with your boyfriend, he’s often the best source of ideas for gifts. Also, if you haven’t yet, I would check out this post I wrote with ideas for gifts to buy abroad: https://www.speakingofchina.com/ask-the-yangxifu/gifts-buy-abroad-chinese-family-relatives/
If she lives in the city, you might consider buying her a nice purse. Name-brand purses (like Coach and such) are popular in China. But again, check with your boyfriend first.
This reply is to Mary, who had left a comment regarding gifts for the family of your host student (apologies, your comment got cleared out when I had to restore a previous backup due to a hack on my site). Swarovski crystals would not be a bad idea. Also since the family is planning to give you something big, I would also think big in terms of gifts. Check out my list of gifts to buy abroad and again, go for something nice. I would give them more than just the chocolates you mentioned. You might also consider bags/purses/wallets from a brand like Coach or Michael Kors — very popular among Chinese and would make for terrific gifts (you can often find outlet stores for them, and purchase options at a significant discount). Hope this helps!