10 Gifts to be Avoided in China

During the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) or other festive occasions, everyone is delighted to receive gifts from families or friends, but they may feel annoyed when getting the wrong presents. Due to different cultural backgrounds, people from western countries can easily make mistakes in choosing New Year gifts to Chinese friends. Here list some inappropriate or taboo things to be avoided, which may give you some enlightenment.

1. Sharp Stuff

Sharp objects like knifes, swords, scissors and should be avoided, for they suggest a relationship to be cut off. If you give these stuff to others, it means that you are going to break off with the receivers.

2. Clocks

The Chinese pronunciation of ‘clock’ (钟 zhōng) is the same with that of ‘end’ (终 zhōng). The latter one usually suggests a person’s death, so presenting a clock as a New Year gift is a taboo. The recipients will get irritated.

3. Umbrellas

As many superstitions are associated with the homophones in China, the word for ‘umbrella’ (伞 sǎn) sounds the same with the word ‘split’ (散 sàn). Therefore, it is a thing foreboding separation with friends, which is also a thankless present, especially for boyfriend or girlfriend.

4. Mirrors

During Chinese New Year or other festivals, people seldom give mirrors as gift out of two reasons. One is that mirrors are fragile, and breaking a mirror is usually an omen of relationship breakdown. The other reason is related with the old Feng Shui culture. Mirror is an important tool to change a house’s Feng Shui layout, so if a mirror is placed in a wrong direction, the misfortune will be incurred.

5. Pears

Fruits are common gifts, but some of them are not welcomed. For example, pears, just like umbrella, they also insinuate families’ and friends’ permanent separation, which doesn’t fit the joyful atmosphere during festivals. Therefore, when choosing gifts for your lover or parents, pears should be avoided.

6. Chrysanthemums

Sending flowers is favorable, but it is restricted in different occasions. In China, chrysanthemums, especially yellow and white ones, are mostly associated with occasions like funerals or mourning ceremonies for the deceased. If you visit a friend with chrysanthemums during the Chinese New Year, you will be surely kicked out of his/her house.

7. Shoes

The Chinese character for ‘shoes’ (鞋 xié) has a homophone, ‘evil’ (邪 xié). People link these two words together, so shoes get an ominous meaning. Giving somebody a pair of shoes equals sending evil to others. Be careful, your friends might be out of contact on account of getting such present.

8. Belts, Ties and Underwear

Some personal items like belts, ties, underwear or necklaces are improper to give to ordinary friends as New Year gifts. Such a present usually leaves a hint that you want to develop a more intimate relationship with others, like boyfriend and girlfriend relationship.

9. Hats

People will wear white hats in China when their elder family members pass away. Besides, a green hat usually satirizes a man who has a disloyal wife, which would be a deadly insult to the receivers. Hence, hats are usually out of people’s gift list.

10. Wallets or Purses

Wallet or purse stands for one’s wealth, so taking them as gifts is an omen of sending your fortune away. However, giving a wallet to your husband or wife is fine; anyway you share the same household wealth with each other.

Taboo on Colors - Avoid Black and White

In traditional Chinese culture, red is regarded as lucky and auspicious, but white and black are considered as ominous, which most apply to occasions like funerals. When choosing New Year gifts, you are supposed to give up on these two colors.

Taboo on Number 4

Four is the most unwelcome number in China. People will try to avoid the number 4 in phone numbers or car numbers, even living on the fourth floor is considered unlucky. The reason is simple: the pronunciation of ‘four’ (四 sì) is the similar with the word ‘death’ (死 sǐ), which is the ultimate taboo for Chinese people. It is just like the number 13 in western countries. So gifts related to number 4 should be abandoned, while presents related to 6, 8 or 9 are viewed auspicious.

 Further Reading:
Chinese New Year Gift Ideas
Chinese New Year Taboos
Chinese Red Envelope
- Last modified on Sep. 28, 2018 -
Questions & Answers on 10 Gifts to be Avoided in China
Asked by Vel from PHILIPPINES | Feb. 12, 2018 18:04Reply
I have a chinese client, and i want to give them present on chinese new year. so what is the best?
Answers (1)
Answered by Alexandra from FRANCE | Feb. 12, 2018 21:03

During the Chinese New Year, there are five categories of things that will never be out of fashion:
Alcohol, Cigarettes, Tea, Healthcare Products and Red Envelope.
Hope helpful!
Asked by Sam from INDIA | Feb. 11, 2017 13:47Reply
Hi, i have read on many website that taking mirror as a gift is bad.
Recently someone gifted me a small mirror and now i dont know what to do. Please suggest me should i give it back, throw it, break it or what should i do to protect myself.
Answers (1)
Answered by Kina from MALAYSIA | Feb. 15, 2017 03:05

Nowadays the mirrors have many meanings. For example: your friend want you to use the mirror for self-reflection every day to better improve yourself. Since it is a gift and just a small mirror, it is ok to keep it. But if you really mind, throw it.
Asked by Magdalene from UNITED KINGDOM | Feb. 04, 2016 14:04Reply
Birthday present for a single lady who is 36 in 2016.
Our friend is a professional young lady of 36 with high education and very accomplished. Extremely friendly and helpful. She offers us gifts quite frequently (more or less every time there is a festival in China, and there are quite a few of them!). She also offers to pay the restaurant. Ills etc but we have managed to be quicker than her! It would appropriate we think to bring her something from England when we go back. With so many taboo gifts though, I'm at a loss what I should buy her from the UK for her birthday. Any suggestions of something fine that can be carried in a suitcase?
Answers (2)
Answered by Nancy from CANADA | Feb. 14, 2016 20:58

Oh, an exquisite shawl can be a good idea. I believe your friend will like it.
Answered by Albert Allera from PHILIPPINES | Aug. 16, 2016 18:45

Hi there , the best gift you can provide to your friend is anything that comes from the heart.
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