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Items to Avoid in Chinese Gift Giving

By: Cheryl Wong

Chinese people have their own culture when it comes to giving friends or relatives gifts. However, there are some taboos to avoid in Chinese culture. Though modern Chinese don't seem to mind them so much, it is still necessary to know what would be suitable in an occasion.

Many beliefs in the Chinese culture are based on cultural values, feng shui, and religious teachings. However, a fair amount of common beliefs are purely based on symbolism.

Items to Avoid in Chinese Gift Giving

Wok - A wok in colloquial Cantonese also means a small disaster, usually at home or in the office. Giving someone a wok symbolizes asking someone to take the blame for something that has gone wrong. In modern days, the frying pan is also avoided as a gift in Chinese culture because of its name in Chinese (a "flat-bottom" wok).

Clock - Clock bears the same sound as "the end" in both Cantonese and Mandarin. "Attending a funeral" of someone in Chinese is usually called "giving the end" of a person. Most people would naturally prefer not to be at the receiving end of someone giving a clock. Many people include wrist watches in the clock category when it comes to gift giving although the Chinese character for watch has a completely different sound than that of the character for clock.

Shoes - Shoes bear the same sound as "rough" or "uneven" in colloquial Cantonese. Giving a pair of shoes to someone symbolizes wishing the recipient a rough road ahead. Remember, shoes include dress shoes, sandals, flip-flops, and runners.

Books would not be welcome in places like Hong Kong or Macau because the pronunciation of 'book' in Cantonese resembles the sound of 'loss'. Especially for those people who are frequent players in race course or Mark six, they would definitely not welcome this idea.

Umbrellas would not be welcome in most places in China because the pronunciation of 'umbrella' resembles separation. Of course nobody would like the idea of separation, particularly concerning your loved ones.

Never give sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would signify the cutting of a relationship. As a gesture of friendship, if you do want to give these items as a gift, ask your friend to give you a very small amount of money, in return for this gift. By doing so, you would have 'sold' it to him rather than given it to him.

Eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture. If you receive eight of any item, consider it a gesture of good will. Six is considered a blessing for smoothness and problem free advances. Four is a taboo because it means 'death.' Other numbers such as '73' meaning 'the funeral' and '84' meaning 'having accidents' are to be avoided.

If you want to give your friends some fruits, remember to buy an even number of them because odd numbers would bring bad luck. So buy 10 apples instead of 9.


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