With few exceptions, good business relationships are built upon strong personal relationships. Selecting an appropriate and proper gift requires knowledge and sensitivity. The art of gift giving is a tradition that has been around for a long time. There exists an excellent suggestion is avoiding giving something people already have.
It is appropriate to bring a gift, particularly something representative of your town or region, to a business meeting or social event. A gift should always be wrapped, but avoid plain black or white paper because these are the colors of mourning.
Present the gift with both hands as a sign of courtesy and always mention that this is only a small token of appreciation. Do not expect your gift to be opened in your presence. This indicates that it is the thought that counts more than the material value. Lucky numbers are 6 and 8 (especially in a series, such as 66 or 888).
Prepare a list of items that represent your local culture, region, country, company. Keep a detailed list of gifts that you have presented, and the names of recipients. Duplicating gifts shows lack of thoughtfulness. Keep a detailed list of gifts you have received. This is very helpful when preparing thank you letters, and it is an excellent way to evaluate relationships.
The Chinese will refuse a gift at first before finally accepting according to Chinese culture. You will have to continue to insist. Once the gift is accepted, express gratitude. You will be expected to go through the same routine if you are offered a gift.
In the presence of other people, never present a valuable gift to one person. This gesture will cause only embarrassment, and possibly even problems for the recipient, given the strict rules against bribery in Chinese business culture. Do not take any photograph of any gift giving unless it is a symbolic gift presented to the organization as a whole.
Giving a gift to the entire company, rather than an individual, can be acceptable in Chinese business culture. Make sure that all business negotiations be concluded before gifts are exchanged.
Specify that the gift is from the company you represent. If you can, explain the meaning of the gift to the receiver. Present the gift to the leader of the Chinese negotiating team. Do not get anything that is obviously expensive, so that the company will not feel obliged to reciprocate.
Valuable gifts should be given to an individual only in private and strictly as a gesture of friendship. Make sure that the gifts given to people of the same level of importance are equitable or of similar grade. Somehow, they may find out later, and the difference may lead to strains in your relationship.
Do not wrap a gift before arriving in China, as it may be unwrapped in Customs. If possible, have your gifts wrapped in red paper, which is considered a lucky colour. Plain red paper is one of the few “safe” choices since a variety of meanings, many of which are negative, are attributed to colours in Chinese culture.
Pink and gold and silver are also acceptable colours for gift wrap. Wrapping in yellow paper with black writing is a gift given only to the dead. Also, do check the variations from region to region about colours. Provide cultural training for employees who are responsible for making gift selections, and/or, work with cultural experts that can make suggestions, or review your corporate gift giving programs.
- a good cognac, or other fine liqueur
- a fine pen [not a pen with red ink--writing in red ink symbolizes severing ties
- solar calculators
- kitchen gadgets
- stamps, if the recipient is interested in them [stamp collecting is very popular here]
- a cigarette lighter, assuming the recipient is a smoker
Often, gifts are not opened in the presence of the giver.
Acceptable gifts for a company include items from your country or city, such as handicrafts, or an illustrated book. Be sure to bring a supply of these items with you, so that you can reciprocate if it happens that you are presented with a gift.
A banquet is usually a welcome gift; since it's likely you will be invited to one, you will have to follow Chinese business protocol and reciprocate. In some parts of China, although senior local officials host the welcoming party, you might be expected to pay for the cost of the banquet. Check this out and be prepared.
Gifts of food are acceptable, but not at dinner parties or other occasions where appetizers and meals will be served. Candy and fruit baskets, however, are acceptable as thank-you gifts sent after these events.
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.
Gifts to Avoid
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, such as 10 cents or One RMB in return for this gift. By doing so, you would have 'sold' it to him rather than given it to him.
The following items are to be avoided as they are associated with funerals:
- Straw sandals
- umbrella or white flowers
- four of any item [the Cantonese word for “four” sounds similar, in the same language, to “death”]
- gifts or wrapping paper in white, black, or blue