Jump to content
  • Sign Up

Chinese New Year Gifts/Taboos


Recommended Posts

  • New Members



I'm working on an article about gift-giving for Chinese New Year; specifically, gifts that non-Asians can get for their Chinese loved ones or friends (or perhaps someone new they're dating). The article is to be in-depth so it needs to also include taboo gifts or things that might considered unlucky in the Chinese culture that a foreigner may not know about. Also, any traditions a first-time visitor to China or a Chinese New Year celebration might not know about. 

I know I can google a lot of this but I find that you learn more about a culture by actually talking to the people of that culture. I would really appreciate any information or feedback you  could give me on this topic.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where have you searched so far? What have you found? What specific questions do you have?

Don't forget to search these forums, too. There have been several threads about gift-giving for different people and different occasions.

People here will be happy to help with questions, but make sure you show us you have done your homework before you came here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • New Members

So far, I've learned about the basic traditions during the Chinese New Year. Things such as Nian ye fan, the monster Nian, and hongbao (sorry I don't know how to enter special characters). I have found a number of sites that show certain "do's and don'ts" when it comes to gift-giving in China (no mirrors, shoes, clocks, syharp objects, etc.) but I know from personal experience that simply reading about a culture online won't give you the authentic sense of it. Plus, when it comes to online research about a culture, it's not always easy to be sure the information is accurate.


For example, I've read that when you are given a gift, it is expected that you will reciprocate with an "appropriate gift of equal value" (lǐ shàng wǎng lái). But is this true? And, if so, what if you don't know much about the recipient of the gift (as far as their standard of living) and you give them an expensive gift. What if a foreigner showed up to a hoste family's house with an edible bird's nest, only to discover the family is quite poor? Would this be considered rude or inappropriate?


I've read that it is customary to bring a gift to a host family you're meeting for the first time (as long as it's not black or white, the colors often associated with funerals) or a green hat for a man because it means his wife is cheating (I think?). 


I understand the Chinese New Year is celebrated by at least a billion people all over the world and it's been speculated that San Francisco, US is the largest celebration outside of China (but I can't verify this).


The point of what I want to write, is to write a post that reflects the authentic nature of gift-giving in China that isn't just a regurgitation of the information already online. 


Where I am living right now, there is a large Chinese demographic (Belize) but they don't understand English as well as other Belizeans. I have tried to have a conversation with one of the Chinese shop-owners here but she wasn't really understanding what information I was seeking (plus she's super positive as a person and couldn't imagine thinking about anything negative lol).


On another thread here, a woman of color posted that she was ready for a relationship but felt that the Chinese culture does not necessarily embrace Chinese people dating people of color. The original poster also mentioned that Chinese people somewhat revere whites. These are the types of subtleties I am looking for. Things that are culturally true but which most outsiders may not realize.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • New Members

I'll give you some personal examples that I've learned about Belizean culture that you won't find online (I'm from the U.S. btw).




Won't hand each other a hot pepper because they believe it causes them to quarrel. Rather, they lay the pepper down and the recipient picks it up from the table instead of taking it  from the giver's hand.


Never respond with "What?" when they don't hear something someone said. It's considered rude.


Don't sit with their backs to open doorways because it attracts spirits who can make them sick.


Turn around three times and come through the door backwards if returning home after midnight (helps keep ghosts out).


Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing about gift giving in China is that you don't open the present in front of the giver. This allows for polite faces and no one has lose "face" by seeing the look on the other person's face when it is something inappropriate. Therefore the value of the gift is not important becuase you don't know what each other has given so can't be expected to give like for like.

Having said that to be on the safe side if you have no knowledge of the person/people/family you are giving to then don't buy expensive birds nest. Usually something from your home country that is hard to get in China goes down well. 


Red paper envelopes with money is always acceptable for weddings, birthdays, and Chinese new year and also these days Christmas. The amount depends who and how old. For example the young daughter of our chinese neighbours who was about 7 or 8, I gave her one coin of each denomination in an red envelope - hóngbāo - 红包  this added up to £3.88. It wasn't too much money for an 8 year old and the fact it was one of each denomination and the newest shiniest coins I could find, made it special. The fact it had 8s in it was also a plus. As it was the daughter of someone I had only just got to know it was polite to quietly ask if he minded me giving it to her. He was actually very impressed with my knowledge surrounding the Red Packet and complimented me on it several times during my visit. So it seems just making an effort to learn and take part in this tradition will be appreciated. ( just to clarify all this happened in the UK)

There is lot of info out there about 红包

There is even now an electronic form of it, there is some competition here, who's boss gives the best 红包, or this boy gives the girl of his dreams a bigger (ie more money) one than his competition. 


If it is a business acquaintance then alcohol goes down well, a bottle of whiskey or similar.


If you are buying for close family member then you buy as you would almost anywhere, something they want or need or just a little luxury.


My personal impression is that chinese people don't go in for big shows of affection by means of big flashy gifts. Keep it considerate, thoughtful and appropriate.


Hope this helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Shelley said:

For example the young daughter of our chinese neighbours who was about 7 or 8, I gave her one coin of each denomination in an red envelope - hóngbāo - 红包  this added up to £3.88. I


Just be careful with this, as coins and odd numbers in 红包 aren't a good idea, it should be notes that round up. 


Coins and odd numbers are usually put in white envelopes and given to someone who has had a family member pass away. 


In Shelley's case, I'm sure they just appreciate the unexpected gift. It was a nice gesture. But this situation is exactly what the OP is talking about. You read a lot online about 'clocks' and the number 4 being bad, but hongbao being a good choice, but it's not until you actually experience a funeral you realise some of these extras such as odd numbers and coins. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the clarification @mackie1402 

This is one of those annoying situations where although you have made a faux pas you will not be corrected becuase he felt at least I had made an effort.

This little article might help.



I did get a few things correct :) and it did contain number 8s and no 4s.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

24 minutes ago, Shelley said:

This is one of those annoying situations where although you have made a faux pas you will not be corrected becuase he felt at least I had made an effort.


Yeah I completely agree. When I had to attend a funeral, I tried doing some research about how things work at the funeral, do's and donts, but there was very little available. Even now, there are still big cultural differences I face every day. Our new born has a baby mirror attached to the crib so he can look at himself (in fact there are about 3 mirrors, cos they're kind of incorporated into so many baby toys). I sent a picture to a WeChat group with the in-laws, and they hated that the baby was looking into the mirror, something about being bad luck again. These are just the things you learn when you are faced with real world situations. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 years later...

I personally never heard that about books. I think gamblers would find any excuse to "improve" their luck but from personal experience I have an aunt who was born and raised in HK who used to give me books when I was a little kid. One of my Chinese teachers here also gave me graded reader books a while back. Maybe your friend just doesn't like books or didn't like that particular book? Unless you know that he's a gambler then that's possible. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...