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Chinese Culture Taboos in Gift-Giving in China !


taboobs in gift giving in china

When giving gifts to Chinese individuals, it's considerate to avoid items associated with funerals, as well as clocks and watches, as they symbolize the passage of time and can be interpreted negatively. Sharp objects like knives or scissors may symbolize cutting ties, so it's best to avoid them. Additionally, gifts in sets of four should be avoided as the number four is considered unlucky in Chinese culture because it sounds similar to the word for death. Always consider cultural nuances and local customs when selecting gifts.


4 is unlucky in china

In Chinese culture, the number 4 is considered unlucky because its pronunciation is similar to the word for "death" in Mandarin. Due to this linguistic association, people often avoid using the number 4 in phone numbers, license plates, or addresses. It's a superstition deeply rooted in cultural beliefs.


clock means unlucky in chinese culture

In Chinese culture, giving clocks as a gift is generally avoided due to the linguistic association between the word for "clock" and the word for "funeral" or "death." This association is based on the similarity in pronunciation between these two words in Mandarin Chinese.


The word for "clock" in Mandarin is "钟" (zhōng), and it sounds similar to the word for "end" or "death" (终 - zhōng). As a result, presenting someone with a clock can be interpreted as a symbol of running out of time or the end of a relationship, making it an unsuitable and inauspicious gift.


This cultural taboo is rooted in superstitions and a desire to avoid conveying negative or ominous meanings through gift-giving. It's essential to be mindful of such cultural nuances when selecting gifts for individuals from different cultural backgrounds to ensure that your intentions are positive and well-received. Instead of clocks, consider choosing gifts that symbolize good luck, happiness, and positive sentiments.


White Flowers Meaning in Chinese

White Flowers (送白花 - sòng bái huā): White is the color associated with funerals and mourning in Chinese culture. Therefore, giving white flowers, particularly lilies or chrysanthemums, is generally avoided as they are commonly used in funeral arrangements.


鞋 and 邪 in Chinese

In Chinese culture, sending shoes as a gift can be considered inappropriate, and it's often associated with negative connotations. The reason behind this cultural taboo is rooted in linguistic and cultural symbolism. Here are a couple of reasons:

  • Homophone for "Evil" or "Bad Luck": In Mandarin Chinese, the word for "shoes" is "鞋" (xié), which sounds similar to the word "邪" (xié), meaning "evil" or "bad luck." The association with negative connotations makes shoes an undesirable gift.

  • Separation Symbolism: Shoes are items that are worn on the feet, and in Chinese culture, there's a superstition that giving shoes could symbolize sending someone away or causing separation. It may be perceived as an inauspicious gift, especially among close friends or family.


离 and 梨 in Chinese

Sending pears as a gift in Chinese culture is associated with a cultural taboo due to the homophonic nature of the word for "pear" (梨 - lí) and the word for "separation" or "parting ways" (离 - lí). The similarity in pronunciation creates a linguistic play on words, and it is believed that giving pears may symbolize wishing someone farewell or encouraging them to go away. You can see the example and know why : the term "离婚" (líhūn) in Chinese refers to "divorce." 离 means seperate and 婚means marriage.


The association between pears and separation is particularly strong during certain occasions, such as Chinese New Year or weddings, where positive and auspicious symbols are preferred. Giving pears during these times may be seen as an inauspicious act.

Cultural taboos around certain gifts are deeply rooted in superstitions and linguistic associations, and they vary across different regions and communities. While these taboos are not universal, it's advisable to be aware of them when selecting gifts for Chinese friends or colleagues to avoid unintentionally conveying negative meanings. Instead, choose gifts that are considered auspicious, culturally appropriate, and reflect positive sentiments.


散 and 伞 bad luck

In Chinese Culture, giving an umbrella as a gift is associated with negative connotations, and it is generally considered inauspicious. This cultural taboo is also rooted in linguistic and symbolic associations. Here are a couple of reasons:

  • Homophone for "Separation": The word for "umbrella" in Mandarin Chinese is "伞" (sǎn), which sounds similar to the word "散" (sǎn), meaning "to separate" or "to disperse." Due to this linguistic similarity, giving an umbrella may be interpreted as a wish for the recipient to be separated from you or to part ways, which is seen as an undesirable sentiment.

  • Implies Bad Luck: The act of opening an umbrella indoors is often considered bad luck in various cultures, including Chinese culture. Gifting an umbrella could unintentionally symbolize the opening of an umbrella indoors, which is avoided to prevent bad luck.

What you should send as gifts instead and which part you should pay attention to ?

In China, the act of giving and receiving gifts is often steeped in cultural significance. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

1. Symbolism: Be mindful of the symbolism attached to certain items. As mentioned earlier, avoid gifts associated with the number four, sharp objects, and items related to funerals.

2. Presentation: The way you present the gift is crucial. It's polite to offer and receive gifts with both hands as a sign of respect. Chinese culture places importance on the gesture of giving more than the actual gift.

3. Refusal: Initially, it's common for recipients to refuse a gift out of politeness. It's customary to offer the gift a few times before it is accepted.

4. Quality over Quantity: Chinese culture often values the thought and quality of a gift over its monetary value. Consideration for the recipient's tastes and preferences is appreciated.

5. Red Color: Red is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture, so incorporating red into the wrapping or packaging of your gift can be a thoughtful touch.

6. Timing: Avoid giving gifts that may be perceived as extravagant, especially in business settings. Timing and appropriateness matter, and overly lavish gifts can be uncomfortable.

7. Cultural Awareness: Understand the cultural background of the recipient. For instance, gifts for business partners may differ from those given to friends or family. Knowing the context helps you choose appropriate gifts.

By being aware of these cultural nuances, you can navigate the gift-giving process in China more effectively and show respect for the traditions and customs of the country.

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