Socializing with Chinese: Gift-giving

Gift-giving is a central part of social life in Chinese culture. Generally speaking, a token gift of fresh flowers, fresh fruit, an item from your hometown, or a tin of high-quality tea is an appropriate gesture for a host, regardless of where you are meeting or for what purpose (a formal business visit, a meal with someone you haven’t seen in some time, staying at someone’s home overnight, etc.).


Chinese are very generous toward people that they aim to build relationships with. It is customary for people who first meet you in a business setting to give you a small gift, as a token of their good intent. People who view you as a mentor or seek your support will also give you a gift. For example, in China when someone receives a promotion, a raise or a significant business win, they invite the people that played a role in that success out to a meal.

Business gifts are typically given to guests at meetings, receptions and banquets. Usually, they are given in a bag with other materials. If you are presented a gift in person, you should refuse at least once before you accept. Presents that are wrapped should be opened later in private unless the giver insists you open it immediately.


And it is common to give gifts during different holidays and special occasions. During Chinese New Year, you should give Hongbao (red envelopes) to kids of all ages. Hongbao are colorful red and gold packets filled with cash. The amount inside is typically an even number but never a 4, which is a homonym for death. Older generations give them to the younger, the married to the unmarried. If your child gets a red envelop from an adult who has their own children, you should give a similar gift to the original giver’s kids to keep things even between the families. Usually you will give New Year Hongbao to people who provide you service and support throughout the year, to show your appreciation and build up better future relationship. Hongbao are also given at weddings to the happy couple, or as an extra token of security for good service to doctors, and so on.


Kids like the tradition of gift-giving on the holidays. They will be looking forward to receiving the Hongbao on New Year’s Eve.

Read more:

Socializing with Chinese: Powerful Guanxi

Chinese People and Culture: Saving Face

Chinese Manners in Daily Life