Since the holidays are around the corner, we’ll be talking about gifts, or 礼物 (lĭ wù) in this article.
There are certain presents that are considered taboo in China. If you're not familiar with these rules, you could wind up offending your Chinese friends and family members. So before you start shopping for presents, make sure to read on for a list of the five gifts you should never give to a Chinese person.
Gift giving is a tradition for all seasons, whether there is a special occasion or you simply want to express your love and gratitude to your friends!
Here are 6 presents that you should avoid giving to a Chinese person
These gifts are generally culturally unacceptable to Chinese people.
Shoes - represents evil
It may seem like a practical choice for a present, but in Chinese culture, giving someone a pair of shoes is just like giving the person a bad spirit. This is because the Chinese word for Shoes (鞋 - Xié) sounds just like the Chinese word for Evil, which is 邪 (Xié). Receiving a pair of shoes as a gift could also represent someone walking or running away from you.
Pears - means to separate
You might think that those sweet Harry and David pears could make a good gift, but Pear (梨子 - Lí zi) sounds just like 離開 (Lí kāi), which means to ‘separate’ or ‘leave’. If you’re planning to give this to a Chinese friend, I’d recommend finding another kind of fruit to give.
Umbrella - means to break up
An Umbrella (傘 - sǎn) sounds similar to the Chinese word for Disperse (散 - sàn). Giving someone an umbrella symbolises that your relationship with that friend is soon to end, so a gift like this could be sending the wrong message.
Clock - means Death
To give a clock (送钟 - sòng zhōng) is especially bad, because it sounds just like the ritual of attending someone’s funeral, (送终 - sòng zhōng). Clocks are generally a big no-no when it comes to gifting. I also recommend avoiding watches as it also represents that you're running out of time.
White Flowers or Chrysanthemums - Used at Funerals
Flowers are usually a great gift, but avoid a bouquet of all white flowers and chrysanthemums which are commonly used as flowers for funerals. The color white also is associated with death and grief. If you would like to gift flowers, choose vibrant happy colors such as red, pink, and multi-colored bouquets.
Gift Sets in Four - 4 sounds like Death
Last but not the least, be mindful of the contents of your present! Giving gift sets in sets of four is a big no in Chinese culture, because the number Four (四 - sì), sounds like the Chinese word for Death (死 - Sǐ). The number Four is considered unlucky in Chinese tradition and superstition, and you can also see this in places other than presents, like a lacking fourth floor in some buildings! Anything with the digit 4 is generally bad luck, so also avoid numbers like 14, 40, 44 etc...
However, if you really wish to give one of these items, a workaround is to request a dollar from the receiver as payment. That way it becomes a transaction rather than a gift.
If you're looking for a good gift to give, books make a great one! Check out my bilingual books available in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Cantonese, and English. A gift of a second language is priceless!
And there you have it! The five listed above are just some of the major gift no-nos, but if you know other things you shouldn't give to a Chinese person, feel free to share them on the comment section below!