So you're looking for a gift for Chinese friends, but you're just not quite sure what's right?
We'll guide you through some Chinese gift ideas along with some to avoid, including how gifts should be wrapped, given and opened.
Gift in Chinese
To begin with, the word ‘gift’ in Chinese is 礼物 (lǐ wù). You can use it in a simple sentence. For example:
谢谢你的礼物。Thank you for the gift.
Now that's done, you can check out our list of popular gifts for Chinese friends, work colleagues, and the in-laws.
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Traditional Chinese Gifts
1. Chinese Tea Sets 茶具 (chá jù)
Chinese tea sets are an elegant way to serve tea in style. While tea sets date back to the Han Dynasty, where they were mainly used to brew medicines, the teapot wasn’t introduced till the Song Dynasty (960–1279), and this is when some of the most exquisite tea sets were made.
Almost all Chinese homes should own a tea set, and many people have a smaller set or ‘tea for one’ at the office.
Here are some of our favorite tea sets:
This simple but delicate tea set can be used for small gatherings at home. Pack away in the specially designed bag to take tea on the go.
A beautifully crafted traditional tea set made in Chao Zhou, Guangdong Province. A 6-cup set with all the authentic tea-making must-haves.
2. Tea 茶 (chá)
Tea is a welcome Chinese gift for older family members. If you’re not sure what kind of tea to purchase, you can check our tea guide here.
Chinese Gifts for Friends
3. Water Bottles 热水瓶 (rè shuǐ píng)
Most people carry their own water bottles as they prefer to drink hot water. Stainless steel bottles are especially popular, as they keep hot water or tea.
4. Basketball Jerseys 篮球球衣 (lán qiú qiú yī)
Basketball is a prevalent sport in China, and a basketball jersey is a good choice for those interested in the sport. Including their name or their favorite player's name is an excellent addition, too!
5. Stationery 文具 (wén jù)
A smart notebook or engraved pen is the ideal gift for a close friend. If you choose a pen, stay away from red ink.
Chinese gifts for women
6. Foot Spa 足浴盆 (zú yù pén)
Spas and self-care are extremely important in Chinese culture, and while it’s still popular to go to an actual spa for a massage and sauna, many people might pamper themselves at home with a foot spa, making this the perfect gift for a female Chinese friend.
7. Skin Care Products 护肤品 (hù fū pǐn)
Skincare products, especially those from abroad, are superb gifts for female friends. Hand-creams, nail polish, or classic red lipstick are great options.
8. DIY Kits 手工diy
Handicrafts and DIY have become increasingly popular in China over the last few years, especially amongst younger women. A miniature dollhouse or crochet kit might be the ideal gift for a crafty female friend.
Gifts from Your Home
If there’s specialty food from your country or region, these are great gifts for your Chinese friends or colleagues. This is especially true for those items that are difficult to get in China, such as local or homemade cuisine, skin care products, or small trinkets.
Gifts for Chinese Colleagues
10. Food & Snacks
Small packages of coffee, chocolate, and candy are popular gifts for colleagues. For friends, a hamper is also an option if you want to include a variety of their favorite food items. If there’s a food or delicacy that’s special to your home or region, you could include these, too.
Given and eaten around Mid-autumn festival, mooncakes represent family unity. The insides vary, but those made from pastry have an egg yolk in the center.
Chinese Gifts for Luck
11. Red Envelopes 红包 (hóng bāo)
In China, red envelopes were originally used as a form of payment during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). They were given by merchants to customers who purchased goods. These envelopes were made out of silk and contained cash inside.
Today, these Chinese lucky gifts are still given on special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, and even when someone receives good news. It’s also common practice to give red envelopes to children on their birthday.
Chinese Housewarming Gifts
Chinese culture is rich in traditions, and housewarming gifts are no exception. When you go to a Chinese home for the first time, especially when the homeowners have just moved in, it is customary to bring a gift.
In China, people usually give their friends and relatives money as a housewarming gift. The amount of money usually corresponds with the degree of friendship or kinship: close friends and relatives can expect to receive more than acquaintances or strangers.
Gifts for In-laws
12. Alcohol 酒 (jiǔ)
If you’re visiting Chinese in-laws, (unless he’s a teetotaler) one of the most coveted gifts for a father-in-law is a bottle of Maotai. Maotai is one of the most expensive brands of 白酒 (bái jiǔ) Baijiu, an alcohol made from rice.
13. Fruit Baskets 果篮 (guǒ lán)
Baskets of fruit are often given on holidays to family members, especially during Chinese New Year. They’re also a safe choice if you’re not sure what else to buy. As well as seasonal fruits, you can also include nuts and seeds as part of the basket.
Tips on Giving and Receiving Gifts
- When you accept a gift, use two hands, especially when accepting a red packet, or when being given a gift by an elder 长辈 (zhǎng bèi).
- Once you’ve accepted a gift, don’t open the gift in front of the gift giver (unless they ask you to)
- Most gifts are given in fancy gift bags, but if you’re using wrapping, make sure to stay away from black and white as these are associated with death. If in doubt, stick with red, or yellow.
- Give gifts in pairs, except for in 4s. In traditional Chinese culture, 4 is seen as an extremely unlucky word, as it sounds like the word for death 死 (sǐ).
Gifts to Avoid
Most of these gifts are off-limits because they’re associated with death. Check out the full list to know which gifts to stay away from.
- Clocks. These are associated with time ticking away and impending death. The Chinese words meaning to ‘give a clock’ 送钟 (sòng zhōng) sounds like 送终 (sòng zhōng), which means to pay one’s last respects.
- Green hats. Green hats are associated with being cheated on 戴绿帽子 (dài lǜ mào zi), so you’ll never see anyone wear one, never mind receive one as a gift.
- Shoes. 送鞋子 (sòng xié zi – give shoes) sounds like the word for evil 邪 xié – abnormal, evil.
- Towels are often given out at funerals, so these are best avoided to prevent sad memories.
- Cut flowers. Don’t give yellow or white chrysanthemums 菊花 (jú huā) as they are usually given at funerals.
- Umbrellas. Umbrella in Chinese 伞 (sǎn) has a similar sound to 散 (sàn) meaning ‘to break up’
- Sharp objects like knives and scissors.
- Pears 梨 (lí) and plums 李子 (lǐ zi) sound very much like the word for ‘divorce’ 离 and aren’t often given as gifts as part of a fruit basket.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Chinese gift guide and it’s helped you to choose the right gift for a Chinese friend.
If you have any questions or comments about gift-giving in Chinese culture, feel free to drop us a comment below.