Chinese Custom: Gift Giving

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Thursday, 17 September 2009
Giving gifts is an important part of Chinese tradition. This custom ranges from a house-warming gift to rites of passage, important events and festivals. Giving and receiving gifts plays a big part in maintaining guanxi, or good relations, and this principle applies to personal as well as business relationships.

The Chinese believe that a gift is in the thought, rather than the expense or extravagance of a gift. This way of thinking came about because the receiver will feel a big debt of gratitude if a gift is too much. There is almost a game to play when it comes to gift giving. If you are the giver, it is important that you present the gift with both hands and to downplay the value of what you are giving. If you are receiving the gift, you should act as if you think you do not deserve a present and politely refuse a few times, before accepting the gift. Remember that to refuse a gift is the height of rudeness because it shows that you are overlooking the gift-giver's sincere gesture. However to take the gift immediately is a sign of a person’s greed.

This also serves as a second lesson; never take a Chinese person's 'No, thank you' literally, if they still refuse after twice, it may be worth asking a third time. Good manners and respect for one another characterizes the Chinese practice of giving and receiving presents. The rules of the game also say that presents are not to be opened right away. This is to show that it is not the present, but the gesture that matters. This also helps avoid awkward situations in case the gift does not really please the receiver.
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