6 Gifts to be Avoided in Chinese Business Etiquette

In Chinese culture, giving gifts (送礼‘sòng lǐ’) to your business partners or clients is often a manner to show your respect, gratitude and hospitality. This reciprocity practice of business etiquette is considered to be a traditional way to build and maintain relationships. However, there’re some cultural taboos that could lead to misunderstanding and frustration, so in here, we’ll share with you 6 gifts that you might want to avoid when giving gifts in Chinese Business settings.

1. Pears

Fruit are often considered as a common gift in China, yet, there’re still exceptions. Pears in Chinese is ‘梨’, pronounced as ‘lí’, which has the same sound as ‘离(lí)’. 离, however means separation and departure.

As it’s an essential goal to build and maintain relationships when doing business with Chinese, pears or pear-shaped gifts may not be a suitable one.

2. Umbrellas

Umbrellas’ Chinese pronunciation is ‘伞(sǎn)’, which sounds like 散(sàn), whereas 散(sàn) means ‘to split’.

So, due to the same reason as pears, umbrellas are not perceived as an appropriate gift for Chinese business environments.

3. Clocks

Clocks is pronounced as ‘钟zhōng’ in Chinese, which shares the same pronunciation as ‘终zhōng’, meaning ‘end’. In particular, 终can refer to the end of one’s life, and people use ‘送终sòng zhōng’ to imply farewell of a dying relative.

As such, giving clocks to others are considered to be a misfortune in Chinese culture, and it could be a metaphor of business ‘dying’.

4. Shoes

Shoes in Chinese is called 鞋(xié), which has the same pronunciation as evil, ‘邪xié’. So giving shoes as gifts could also symbolize sending out evils to others.

5. Green Hats

In Chinese culture, if a man is said to be given a green hat (绿帽子 ‘lǜ màozi’) by his wife, the underlying meaning is he has been cheated by his partner! This is an implicit way to talk about such sensitive topics.

Therefore, green hat has become a sensitive object among Chinese people. It’s not encouraged to give hats as gifts under formal business situations, especially green hats.

6. Books

This taboo is especially evident among Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau districts in China. As the pronunciation of books (书shū) is the same as ‘to lose’ (输’shū’), it’s considered to be a signal of no luck or loss.

In a business environment, where people are looking to ‘win’ instead of ‘lose’, books shall not be a good choice as gifts.



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