Usually when we send anything for Chinese New Year to my husband’s parents here in China, it invariably elicits a very standard response that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Chinese culture: “You shouldn’t have spent that money!” In fact, Jun’s parents already used this phrase on us twice – once after receiving the Chinese New Year gift boxes of Chinese jujube dates and walnuts, and then again after sending some whole root ginseng.
But when Jun told his father in a phone conversation that a gift box of auspicious red socks were also headed his way, he perked up with an uncharacteristic note of excitement in his voice. “Eh, your mother told me to buy some red socks and underwear!”
(That was my father-in-law’s way of saying: I love it, thank you!)
Those who know something about Chinese New Year culture and superstitions won’t find it surprising that he embraced this delivery more than the others.
First of all, wearing red in your Chinese zodiac year supposedly wards off the potential bad luck that might threaten anyone born under that zodiac sign. And second, people say the red clothing offers stronger protection if someone else buys it for you.
So since I bought him pairs of red socks, that could make these an especially propitious and welcome way to ring in this Chinese New Year, his own zodiac year.
Red socks or underwear (from actual briefs, boxers or panties to long johns) can present easy options to buy for your friends and family, provided you know their sizes. But when in doubt, go for anything painted in brilliant red: hats, scarves, gloves, wraps and even necklaces or bracelets.
Have any Chinese family or friends about to enter their zodiac year? Don’t forget them on your Chinese New Year shopping list – and remember, this is one time that someone might actually cheer to receive underwear or socks! For ideas, visit my post Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian).
Need more Chinese New Year gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:
As Chinese New Year will light up homes and skies around the world at the end of this month starting Jan 24 (the eve of Chinese New Year), many of have already begun the annual shopping “shuffle” to find those perfect Chinese New Year gifts. And many Chinese brands you might not know happen to shine as splendid gift choices for Chinese New Year.
Here are 7 favorite Chinese brands – featuring foods and supplements — that you should consider while shopping for Chinese New Year, along with links to online stores in China and also around the world, including Amazon (where your purchases help support this site).
Three Squirrels (三只松鼠)
Chinese have gone nuts (pun intended!) over this label, which reigns as one of China’s best-selling snack brands and boasts an adorable trio of squirrels as its mascots. Naturally, things such as pecans, macadamias, pistachios, almonds and more stand out as favorites, but Three Squirrels also sells dried fruits, fruit and nut combos, plus a wide array of products that cover practically every snack category in China (from cookies, crackers and cakes to smoked/dried tofu and, yes, even potato chips). If you live in China, buy from the official Three Squirrels online stores on Alibaba’s Tmall or JD; you can also find Three Squirrels on Amazon.
Prince of Peace (太子牌)
This Hong Kong brand has won fans across the world and become one of the most ubiquitous ginseng brands in Chinese supermarkets across America for its quality and potent American ginseng products. While Westerners tend to like the convenience of the teas, capsules and powders, most Chinese will prefer whole root ginseng or ginseng slices. In China, you can buy on JD’s online marketplace. Otherwise, visit the Prince of Peace online store or Amazon.
Honey West (楼兰蜜语)
This brand name captures the sweet allure of the many popular snack foods of western China that have enchanted peoples’ tastebuds. Unlike Three Squirrels, Honey West specializes in western Chinese snacks such as large Chinese jujube dates, walnuts, raisins, figs and much more. As much as I love Three Squirrels, Honey West has become my go-to choice for Chinese New Year gifts for the family – their boxed Chinese jujube date/walnut combos always bring a delicious helping of joy (and good fortune, thanks to their clever packaging design) to the table at the holidays. You can find Honey West on Alibaba’s Tmall or on JD.
As vitamin brands from abroad have multiplied in the Chinese market, the domestic brand By-Health still flexes its muscles as one of the top choices for Chinese consumers looking for quality supplements at a good price. And since By-Health imports many of its key ingredients, buying from them can be like opting for an overseas brand. Even better – By-Health offers a selection of nearly every major vitamin, from vitamin B and C to multivitamins and calcium to even specialty supplements such as spirulina and garlic oil. You can purchase By-Health online at their Alibaba Tmall official store or their JD official store, and also visit its English website.
For years I’ve watched olive oil pour into supermarket shelves – and kitchens – across China, to the point where the country has risen to become one of the world’s major importers of this product. While Spanish and Italian imports vie for customers, the Chinese brand Olivoila, which promotes its own blend of imported olive oils tailored to the Chinese market, continues to sizzle among leading choices. In fact, my employer even gave a special boxed set of Olivoila olive oil for Chinese New Year. Here in China, you can purchase Olivoila at the Alibaba Tmall official store or its JD store.
Great Wall (长城葡萄酒)
The Alibaba Tmall supermarket listed a gift box of Great Wall red wine among its hottest selling products for Chinese New Year, a testament to how beloved this time-honored brand remains, despite the diverse range of imported wines that have flooded the Chinese market. For Chinese New Year, choose wines in red, the most festive color of the season. You can purchase Great Wall at the Alibaba Tmall official store or its JD official store.
White Rabbit (大白兔)
For many Chinese, White Rabbit candies, which date back to 1959 and represent one of the first treats in modern China, recall the sweet taste of nostalgia with every bite. And since generous bowls of candies always feature in Chinese New Year celebrations, consider surprising your Chinese loved ones with a box or some bags of these. They come in the traditional white milk candies as well as some newer and more innovative flavors (such as wasabi!). You can buy White Rabbit candies at the Alibaba Tmall official store or the JD official store, as well as on Amazon.
Photo credit: By David290 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77127042
What do you think? What are some other favorite Chinese brands you would recommend for Chinese New Year gifts?
Need more Chinese New Year gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:
If you’ve saved your holiday shopping for the last minute and wonder what to buy for Chinese loved ones on your list, we’ve got you covered on this blog. Here are four last-minute holiday gift ideas to consider:
#4: Hats, gloves, scarves
People love getting new clothes for the holidays in China (so they can dress in a completely new outfit from head to toe), so winter clothing is always in season as a gift.
Hats, gloves and scarves offer the easiest options — you don’t need to know sizes to buy the perfect gift. Still, quality counts here and, if you’re buying for someone younger, style as well. To play it safe, opt for major brands such as Esprit, Gap, Uniqlo or Zara.
Quality watches, earrings and necklaces in classic styles also shine as gifts for Chinese — and if you’re buying outside China, you can often find those with precious stones at better prices too. Unless you know the recipient well, stick to the most traditional pieces and settings from established brands or jewelers. Watches work well for men, while women will love earrings or necklaces.
If you’ve read every suggestion on this list and still feel stumped, then repeat after me — get a fruit basket or gourmet food basket. For more specific advice on this, see 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.
Need more last-minute holiday gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:
As the holiday shopping season is fast approaching, gifts once again emerge as that perennial to-do on many of our lists. But with Singles Day kicking things off in China, it offers a great opportunity to sift through the data and get some gift inspiration for your Chinese loved ones this holiday season. Here are some major trends to consider, based on purchases Chinese consumers made during or around Singles Day in 2019:
Travel a hot ticket this year
This year, a growing number of Chinese have opted for experiences over things by choosing travel products on Singles Day, as China Daily reported in the Nov 14 article Chinese buying more travel products:
In the past five years, the number of travel product orders on Nov 11 has seen a compound annual growth rate of nearly 60 percent. Each year, the number of new consumers who bought travel products grew by more than 30 percent over the previous year, according to Fliggy, the online travel arm of internet giant Alibaba Group.
On Monday, more than 5 million people booked overseas trips on Fliggy. The total transaction volume of international flight tickets jumped 50 percent over last year. The platform has also seen over 900,000 visa orders and 1 million nights of hotel bookings, the travel arm of Alibaba added.
So for your holiday gift-giving, why not hop on that bandwagon and opt for a little traveling fun this holiday season or in the coming year?
Besides splurging on planes, trains or automobiles and hotel and resort stays, think about those travel must-haves or comfort items that make the journey even more pleasant. Suitcases and luggage sets, bag tags, comfy pillows, luggage trackers, travel-friendly apparel and much more could go on your list.
In a China where lightning-fast shopping delivery services and takeout reign, it’s no surprise then that many shoppers this year gravitated toward more service-oriented purchases, as the China Daily article Shifting trends behind China’s record shopping spree notes:
Services consumption is also rising. Door-to-door beauty care, luxury product maintenance and other services were popular on e-commerce platforms during this period.
So why not order your special someone some good service this year? Or consider providing a little something yourself (hint, hint)? 😉
The latest electronics still shine
A recent report from China Daily on 5G handset sales — 5G phone shipments quadrupled in Oct – delivered some eye-popping numbers, and the fact that it came ahead of Singles Day makes it even more astounding:
Shipments of 5G mobile phones in China witnessed a sharp 401.81 percent surge month-on-month in October, according to data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology on Monday.
Overall domestic mobile phone shipments in China reached 35.97 million units in October, down 6.7 percent year-on-year and 0.7 percent compared with September. 5G mobile phone shipments sent out 2.49 million units, compared with 497,000 units a month earlier, data showed.
As 5G networks emerge around the world, you can bet 5G devices – and other trendy electronics – will certainly light up this holiday season, and make for great gifts for your loved ones as well.
Many years ago, I experienced what was, to me, one of my most unusual Christmases. My fear of spending the holiday alone in Hangzhou, as I was single at the time, drove me to purchase a train ticket and flee to the one city where I actually had some close friends: Zhengzhou, in Central China’s Henan province. My old friend and Mandarin tutor Wang Bin connected me with some friends of his, who welcomed me into their apartment, bereft of even a single Christmas decoration, and offered me a guest room.
Even though it didn’t look a lot like Christmas in their home or on the streets, I felt determined to stir up a little holiday cheer on my own. Among my plans? Buying Christmas gifts for my Chinese friends and even host family.
Of course, this led to yet another great seasonal dilemma, one not unique to my situation in China. What Christmas gifts should I buy?
How many times had I grappled with this question in the US during past Christmases, only to face the same issue in Zhengzhou, China.
I still don’t remember what I purchased for my host family, but do recall picking up a few fuzzy scarves for my Zhengzhou friends. I have no idea if anyone liked them, but I can tell you I spent probably way more time and energy than the task deserved
Navigating Christmas in China has grown easier over the years, as I’ve celebrated many Christmases here and gained a better sense for how Chinese people view the holiday.
And now that I have family here, thanks to my marriage to a Chinese citizen, I’ve done my share of gift-giving with them. It’s not quite like doing Christmas presents back in my home country of America, but it’s also a lot easier.
If you have a similar dilemma, such as worrying about what to buy for everyone from Chinese friends or a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend to a Chinese host family, then let’s talk Christmas gifts for people in China, with an easy suggestion sure to please all ages.
Here are things to keep in mind:
#1: People in China don’t generally expect gifts for Christmas
The good news? In general, people don’t have strong expectations for gifts. The vast majority of Chinese didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas with their families, as it isn’t a traditional holiday here. You won’t encounter people making out their “gift list” to give to others, or announcing what they want in advance. (This holds true for holidays in China where people do traditionally give gifts, like Chinese New Year.)
That takes a lot of the pressure off your shoulders, as you shouldn’t feel like you have to find “the perfect gift”. People in China don’t even aim for “the perfect gift” at Chinese New Year for others, so why should you fret about it for Christmas?
#2: If you’re going to give a gift, make it quality
Here’s the key though — whatever you choose, think quality when you buy. Face matters a lot in gift-giving in China. When you present something to someone else, it also reflects on you and your relationship with them. So as much as possible, aim for the best you can afford.
#3: When in doubt, go for my No 1 gift choice in China (with a Christmas twist)
But whenever pressed for an easy solution, I always suggest the No 1 gift beloved by Chinese of all ages — fruit!
Chinese people think of fruit as dessert. It caps off even the most lavish of banquets, and people frequently give it to guests, friends and loved ones as a treat or gift. And when people buy fruit, they have high expectations for taste and even freshness, which means you can find delectable choices at even the most humble of fruit stores. (This last point also explains why I’ve “rediscovered” some fruits here in China — see How China (and My Chinese Husband) Helped Me Love Grapes & Other Fresh Fruit.)
Now you can buy fruit in boxes or cases, or get a fruit basket (see my article 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China for guidance on fruit baskets). You can purchase these online through the major Chinese e-commerce sites — Taobao (or its English version Baopals) and JD — which are probably one of the best ways to zero in on high-quality offerings in any season. Local supermarkets will also have fruit in boxes or cases, and sometimes fruit baskets. You can always find both at the pervasive fruit stores all across urban areas in China (proof of how much Chinese adore their fruit). If you’re living overseas and want to send a fruit basket to someone in China, try Gift Baskets Overseas (disclosure: I’m an affiliate).
However, if you want to give fruit as a Christmas gift in China, purchase apples.
People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called “Ping’an Ye” (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol ‘Silent Night’. The word for apple in Mandarin is “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace.
Giving apples on Christmas Eve has emerged as a new kind of tradition here in China. Even I’ve received my share. And Chinese generally people love good apples, tradition or no, making them a wonderful present.
I highly recommend giving Xinjiang Aksu sweetheart apples (阿克苏冰糖心苹果) for their sugary goodness sure to delight during the holidays. China also has a variety of Fuji apples (富士苹果) that make for delicious gifts too.
Optionally, stores now sell special Christmas Eve apples decorated with Chinese characters just for the occasion, which obviously cost more.
If you opt for a fruit basket, that’s fine too. Look for one that includes apples!
While apples and other fruit make for an easy Christmas gift solution, they aren’t the only possibilities.
The new year may be upon us — but in China, there’s another one just around the corner. Chinese New Year, of course!
Chinese New Year is also a time for giving gifts, especially when it comes to the tradition of bainian, where you visit friends and family bearing gifts known as nianhuo or Chinese New Year goods.
What makes a good gift for Chinese New Year? While I have a list of suggestions below, here’s my bottom line for Chinese New Year gifts. Always go for quality and don’t forget to get it wrapped and/or in a gift box.
The good news is, there are plenty of quality Chinese New Year gifts available, and if you purchase in China, most goods on sale usually come all boxed up, often in auspicious red and gold packaging. All you need to do is buy and give, it’s that simple!
So here are my 7 suggestions for great Chinese New Year gifts:
#7: Hongbao (red envelopes)
Children all across China eagerly await Chinese New Year for a lot of reasons, including the many hongbao (red envelopes) they’ll receive, filled with auspicious amounts of money, as the World of Chinese notes:
If you’re stuffing it with hundreds, go for even numbers for good luck: 200, 600, or 800. Don’t hand out bad luck with a gift of 400, or anything with the number four, the unluckiest of all numbers. Instead, stick to ones, fives, and, best of all, eights.
So if there happen to be kids with the people you’re visiting, don’t forget to give each of them a hongbao as a Chinese New Year gift!
Hongbao are also terrific for those in your employment, such as an ayi who might clean your home or care for your children. Think of it as a year-end bonus for the hard work they’ve done.
Say what you want about China’s national hot beverage. It really makes one fantastic gift….
What home in China doesn’t have a top-shelf box of tea (or even two), ready and waiting to entertain guests? Plus, everyone…loves drinking it.
But if you’re going to give tea as a gift, be prepared to pay top money for it. Most Chinese can taste the difference between the expensive, high-grade varieties (which are great gifts) versus the cheaper average teas (which you should never buy for anyone but yourself).
I wouldn’t buy tea online. Your best bet is to find a high-end tea shop in your vicinity and try the teas before purchasing this for Chinese New Year gifts.
#5: Nuts and dried fruits
No Chinese New Year is complete without the requisite hours of lazing around with friends and family, snacking on everything from walnuts and pecans to dates and raisins. They also make outstanding Chinese New Year gifts.
Nuts: Here in China, I’ve seen walnuts, pecans, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, pine nuts, sunflower seeds and chestnuts given as gifts. You’ll even encounter Chinese New Year gift boxes that offer an assortment of nuts, nicely packaged up and ready to give someone you know or love.
Dried fruits: Dried jujube dates are always excellent Chinese New Year gifts because the name sounds auspicious. Dates are known as zǎo （枣）, and the name sounds like the character zǎo (早) in the phrase 早来福到 （zǎoláifúdào), which means good fortune comes early. So if you bring dried jujube dates, it symbolizes your hope the recipient will enjoy good fortune soon. While there are lots of varieties of dates available, I happen to love the large Xinjiang dates, which you can always find online on Amazon and in China on Taobao, including the Tmall Supermarket, and usually at your local supermarket.
Raisins from Xinjiang (particularly the Turfan region) are also a special treat to send someone during Chinese New Year, and are incredibly delicious. Amazon has them. If you’re in China, check Taobao, including the Tmall Supermarket, to buy online. Your local supermarket may also have some available.
Or, if you can’t decide on dried fruits or nuts, consider buying them this ingenious Chinese creation — dried jujube dates stuffed with walnuts. They are so heavenly they’ve become my favorite snack, and your recipient will love them because they combine two of the most nutritious winter foods together in one convenient bite-sized morsel.
#4: Chocolates, candies and cookies
Sweets — including chocolates, candies and even cookies — have become as ubiquitous as the standard nuts, dried fruits and fresh fruits you see at homes during Chinese New Year. Even I can’t resist, often stopping by the candy plate to devour a small chocolate — or two.
If you’re going to give chocolates for Chinese New Year gifts, I recommend imported brands such as Ferrero Rocher (their traditional chocolate hazelnut candies wrapped in gold foil are always a festive addition at Chinese New Year), Dove, Hershey’s or even Godiva. You can find all of these online at Taobao or Amazon, most at Tmall Supermarket, and also many at your local supermarket.
Imported cookies in gorgeous gift tins, such as Danish butter cookies, are also a good choice for Chinese New Year. Besides Amazon, buy them in China at your supermarket or online at Taobao’s Tmall.
There’s a saying in Chinese — dōnglìng jìnbŭ (冬令进补), which refers to how winter is a season for increasing your nutrition with a good tonic or medicinal herbs/foods. So naturally, these have also become popular Chinese New Year gifts, particularly for people over 50.
You’ll encounter lots of possible herbal remedies and foods in China, many related to traditional Chinese medicine. But sometimes even I find the selection overwhelming! Personally, I like to stick with the ones I know and recognize. For example, ginseng is something I’ve bought for family members with great success, and it’s available on Taobao. And if I’m in the US, I love to stock up on American ginseng, prized for its medicinal and nutritional qualities, to give as gifts, including during Chinese New Year. You can buy American ginseng on Amazon.
Vitamins are the “modern version” of these traditional health foods, and can also make wonderful Chinese New Year gifts if your recipients would use them. I’ve found that people living in cities tend to be more open to taking vitamins, compared to those living in rural areas — but it’s always good to ask ahead of time. Foreign brands make a better impression, so I try to buy overseas as much as I can (including on sites like Amazon). That said, you can still buy in China. Besides foreign brands, one option is By-Health (汤臣陪建), available online and in most supermarkets.
#2: Wines and spirits
Ganbei (“empty glasses” in Chinese) is the equivalent of “cheers” you’re sure to hear around the table during Chinese New Year, as people toast each other, usually with wine or spirits. It’s no wonder these make terrific gifts for Chinese New Year.
One option is top-shelf baijiu, such as Moutai or Wuliangye, especially if your recipient is a fan of China’s most fiery liquor.
But because I’m a foreigner who knows next to nothing about baijiu, I prefer to give imported wines, usually red (since red is the lucky color for Chinese New Year). Wine from France is highly cherished among the Chinese, so French red wine is an excellent choice. If it’s in your budget, French champagne is also sure to impress for Chinese New Year. But generally speaking, any quality imported wine will be a welcome addition to the Chinese New Year table.
In China, you can purchase baijiu either online or at your local supermarket or wine and cigarette store. If you’re not bringing your wine from abroad, you’ll find excellent options available online on Taobao, including the Tmall Supermarket; you can also shop your local supermarket for imported wine too, though you may be more limited in options.
If you’re still totally stumped on what Chinese New Year gifts to buy, please repeat after me: fruit!
As Huan Hsu, author of The Porcelain Thief, once wrote, “Fruit is China’s apple pie.” Chinese people treasure fine fruit because it’s often what’s for dessert, and always a favorite to snack on anytime during Chinese New Year. You’re sure to endear yourself with any host in China if you show up with, say, boxes of Xinjiang Aksu sweetheart apples (冰糖心苹果), or even a fruit basket loaded with everything from sugary mandarins and crisp fresh dates to fragrant pomelos and tangy kiwis.
Where you can purchase fruit? If you’re based in China, there are lots of great deals on boxed fruit on Taobao (including the Tmall Supermarket, which offers next-day delivery in most major cities in China). You can also visit your supermarket or neighborhood fruit store, where you can purchase not only boxed fruit but also fruit baskets.
Last month, I received my first-ever gift of Dior perfume from an unlikely source – the wife of one of my closest friends here in China. He is strictly middle-class. Yet for him and his wife, my move to Beijing warranted some luxury fragrances and, somehow, they put together the money to make it happen.
(Their gift to my husband? Two bottles of red wine imported from France that looked just as upscale as the perfume set I received.)
The experience was yet another reminder to me that, in China, gift-giving is serious business.
Since the holiday season is upon us, which means plenty of shopping and plenty of gift-giving, it’s also time for me to once again dust off my advice for gift-giving in China. Whether you’re buying for your Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend, your Chinese in-laws, or even a Chinese host family, I’ve got you covered, as always.
I’m a big believer in keeping it simple. And here’s the thing – you don’t have to shell out for Dior to leave a good impression with your loved ones, family or friends in China.
Do you have a Chinese friend or loved one who happens to be a dog in the Chinese zodiac, which is the zodiac sign for 2018? I’m sure they would be delighted and touched if you gave them a gift that will bring them good luck in the coming year. See my post Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian).
Chinese New Year is coming! If this is your first time spending the holidays with a Chinese family, here are 3 things that will definitely NOT impress:
#1: Be totally antisocial
Chinese New Year is all about reuniting with family and friends to celebrate. You’re meant to get out there, attend those dinners, and knock on those doors with red gifts in hand.
Which means the worst thing you could do is be utterly antisocial.
Now, let’s get clear about what antisocial really means in this context. Sitting quietly at the dinner table or among guests, not speaking much, doesn’t necessarily apply. You don’t have to be chatty to win their hearts over. Just being present, butt in seat and chopsticks in hand, will suffice.
But if you spend the whole holiday locked up in your room, only consuming crappy ramen noodles (I actually witnessed someone in my husband’s village who did this), you’re definitely going to piss off more than a few people.
#2: Don’t prepare any gifts
Years ago, when I was getting ready to experience Chinese New Year for the first time ever, a friend clued me in on my obligation to my hosts. “You need to buy them some gifts,” she said, even taking me shopping in the supermarket next door to pick out the perfect one for them.
Chinese New Year gifts are such a big deal that every supermarket creates huge red-and-gold displays filled with all the usual suspects to lure shoppers – from fine alcohol and spirits, to dried fruits and nuts, to even traditional Chinese remedies like ginseng and Dong quai. These are all neatly packaged, often with their own attractive red-and-gold gift boxes or bags. All you have to do is show up at the house, goods in hand.
But if you show up empty handed, you won’t win any favors. Especially if you’re a foreigner. Most Chinese think foreigners have a lot of money, despite your current financial circumstances. They’re probably expecting you to bring some of the best gifts at the table – or at the very least, something as good as everyone else.
With nothing in hand, you’ll be branded as either rude or stingy. And quite possibly might be the talk of the family…but not for the reasons you’d hope.
#3: Dress in shabby or old clothing
I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law was privately shocked when, one Chinese New Year, I didn’t have a single new sweater or jacket to wear.
It didn’t matter that my down jacket was a gorgeous ruby red that glimmered in the sun, and nicer than most of the jackets I could have bought in the stores in Hangzhou. Or that my sweater was less than a year old and still in fine condition. Or even that my Calvin Klein jeans looked as good as new.
I had broken one of the cardinal rules of Chinese New Year. I was wearing something old, which is totally inauspicious and against the usual custom.
My mother-in-law has often reminded me about the importance of wearing nice clothes. Clothing is like your public face, and how everyone dresses reflects on the whole family.
Now, it’s one thing to wear old clothing…but if you really don’t want to impress the family, show up in something old and shabby. Dress like you’re about to renovate an apartment in the middle of China’s winter, or beg on the streets for a few extra kuai.
(Chances are, your family would be so embarrassed they’d probably give you something decent to wear. And force you to wear it.)
But what are the things to avoid? How should you NOT give gifts in China? Here are 4 ideas you won’t want to try:
#1: Give something really cheap
I once came across a foreign woman in China staying with a family during her trip to Beijing. When I asked her what gifts she had prepared for them, she gleefully dug the hotel shampoo samples out from her suitcase. “Won’t these be perfect?”
I mentally cringed at the sight of those sad little plastic bottles, realizing this girl was on the verge of embarrassing herself in Beijing. That’s when I took her aside and clued her in on the reality. That one of the biggest no-nos for gift-giving in China is giving something cheap (or, worse, free).
Think of a gift as a version of your public face. When you give something cheap, you’re saying you don’t value the person or the relationship enough. Not exactly the kind of Hallmark sentiment you were aiming for, eh?
How much does the quality of your gift matter? Let me put it to you this way – Chinese would rather spend less on themselves just to buy the perfect gifts for their friends, family and valued business partners. It’s that important.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around for a good deal. As I write this, I’m currently doing my shopping for Chinese New Year gifts. And trust me, I always hunt around for the best deal. But for me, the bottom line is a good price on quality gifts. It has to be quality, otherwise I won’t buy it.
So ditch the freebies and samples, and go for quality, name brand goods.
#2: Make your gift look sloppy
Growing up, I struggled with the art of wrapping Christmas and birthday presents. My corners bulged. I never seemed to be able to fold the edges without them getting unnecessarily wrinkled. And I used way too much tape. Sometimes, the result looked as though the box had fallen down the stairs a couple of times.
In other words, they were sloppy. Really sloppy.
I got away with sloppy gifts because I was a kid. But in China, if your gifts look sloppy, you may not get the same pass.
How your gift looks matters in China. It’s so important that, during Chinese New Year, most new year gifts include neat little gift boxes or bags. They’re usually a sturdy red plastic, embossed with golden characters and festive décor (such as the year’s Chinese zodiac animal). How cool is that?
Let me tell you, I adore those gift boxes and bags. Not only do they make the gift look gorgeous, but they also mean I don’t have to wrap anything. I’m better off staying far away from wrapping paper – otherwise I’ll end up with a sloppy and totally embarrassing gift.
#3: Give a gift that reminds people of funerals or death
Chances are, you’ve probably heard the advice to avoid white colors or clocks . Why? Because white is the traditional funeral color, and the Chinese words for giving a clock (songzhong) sound like sending someone death. (Yikes!)
Let’s face it – invoking death and funerals is not exactly the best way to show you care. Apart from joke gifts or Halloween paraphernalia, I’ve never met someone in the US happy to receive, say, a miniature coffin or a tiny gravestone with their name on it. Why would it be any different in China?
So how do you avoid this trap? Simple. Besides the general moratorium on white or clocks, I’d also avoid sending anyone a wreath of multicolored flowers. Folks in China place them on gravestones.
#4: Be stingy
If you’ve ever attended a banquet in China, then you’ve probably left thinking, “What a waste of food.” Yes, most banquets mean ordering ungodly amounts of food – so much that nobody in their right mind could possibly finish it all. I’ve left many a banquet shocked by the amount of leftovers.
But there’s a reason why hosts will ply their guests with more delicious food than anyone could possibly eat. In China, it’s important to be generous with what you give to others. (This explains why my mother-in-law always tries sending us home with heaping bags of vegetables from her garden or freshly made tofu.)
This idea of generosity is also true for giving gifts. Which is why being stingy with amounts will always get you into trouble.
Whenever I buy gifts, I generally opt for larger sizes or larger amounts. I want to give them an abundance of goodness, whether that’s a heaping basket of extra-fresh fruit or a case of imported French wine. There’s no better way to show you care than with a little more.
Stumped on what to buy? Repeat after me – fruit basket! It’s the perfect present for your Chinese loved ones when you have absolutely no clue what to get. Check out my 4 Tips for Giving Gift Baskets in China.
But sometimes, no matter what you do, you’ll still face those holiday blues, especially if you’re spending the holidays in China. You’ll find comfort in my post On Having the Christmas Blues in China.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has been shopping Amazon to help support my husband’s case! If you’d like to join them and support the blog (and my husband) while you shop for the holidays, at NO additional cost to you, here’s how:
Finally, I’m an affiliate for Vypr VPN, a VPN provider that I started using before I signed up for the affiliate program. I’m currently offering two discounts – three months free OR 50% off your first month.
Wishing you all a great start to your holiday season!
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.