Sample Business Protocol Lesson – Giving Gracious Gifts

Gift-giving in the Chinese culture is synonymous with a keen interest in guanxi or creating and building a relationship. Gifts can be given to show respect or celebrate a special occasion. The Chinese prefer a tangible gift rather than a thank-you note to demonstrate appreciation. In fact, not giving a gift could be the kiss of death for getting a relationship on the right track.

In China there is a tacit understanding about exchanging gifts as far as favors are concerned. Accepting a gift that accompanies a request for a favor carries the obligation to honor the request. And gifts given to express gratitude for a favor should correspond to the magnitude of the favor.

It is also important to know what constitutes an appropriate gift. A gift’s value, for example, should fit the occasion. Gifts of excessive value should be avoided. Moreover, giving a very valuable gift to a powerful person could be misconstrued as bribery. Also, certain gifts that may be a great idea in your home country may be a very bad choice in China. It’s simply a matter of being informed.

These guidelines clarify the art of giving gracious gifts.

Occasions for Giving Gifts


Do give presents to your Chinese host organization. You may present one large gift from your company to the leader of the delegation or individual small gifts of nominal value to members of the host group. Give more valuable gifts such as a cellular phone or digital camera to the senior-level executives.

Do give gifts to each member of the Chinese delegation in the order in which they are introduced to you. The most important person in the group should receive the gift before the others.

Do exchange a modest gift with your Chinese business colleagues as well as their administrative assistants at the first meeting.

Do exchange gifts at the last meeting during your visit or at the conclusion of a banquet.


Suitable Gift Choices


Do choose appropriate gifts for your occasion:

• inexpensive souvenirs such as a photo album from the trip

• books related to art or framed artwork

• gifts with your corporate logo for your business partners: pens, calculators, paper weights or other desk accessories

• useful gifts such as a tape measure, a lighter or tote bags

• representative items from your country or local specialty products

• French brandy, whiskey or cognac

• more personal gifts to friends

• gifts in sets of eight, a number considered to be lucky; in Chinese it sounds similar to the word which means fortune or prosperity.

Do ask the staff at a department store if you are not sure what gift is suitable for the occasion.

Do reciprocate with a gift of similar value if you receive a gift. This, rather than sending a thank-you card, is appropriate way to show appreciation for the gift given to you.

Do consider hosting a meal at a nice restaurant as a gift to show your appreciation to your Chinese friends or business partners.


Don’t give gifts that suggest tears or death. Specific things to avoid are:

• a clock because the phrase “give you a clock” sounds similar to “attending your funeral”

• gifts in sets of four, a number associated with death

• a handkerchief

• an umbrella

• white objects or flowers

• chrysanthemums

Don’t offer a man a green hat since this would imply his spouse is having an affair.

Don’t give sharp objects such as knives and scissors or pears as they imply severing a relationship.

Don’t give a gift of great value unless a clear relationship is established. This would create an awkward situation, and the gift may not be accepted.

Presenting the Gift


Do give a gift to everyone present if you offer individual gifts, or don’t give gifts at all.

Do present and receive a gift with both hands.

Do take pictures during the gift exchange at an important ceremony.

Do anticipate the Chinese custom of refusing the gift as many as three times before accepting it to demonstrate politeness. Continue to offer the gift a second or third time.

Do stop offering the gift if you sense sincere unwillingness to accept it.

Do consider asking the hotel staff to wrap the gifts that you plan to offer.

Do wrap the gift in bright red or gold paper.


Don’t open the gift in the presence of the other person, unless specifically requested.

Don’t expect the Chinese to open your gift in your presence, unless you specifically ask.

Don’t wrap gifts in advance because they may be opened by the customs authorities upon arriving in China.

Don’t wrap the gift in white paper.

Don’t write people’s name in red ink. That can imply that the person will die soon.

Let’s relate it:

1. Which of the following gifts would be the most suitable to offer your Chinese host?

a. a luxury clock

b. an 8-piece set of sterling silver knives

c. a book about your favorite artist from your home country

2. Which of the following is not in keeping with proper Chinese protocol?

a. Giving a gift to everyone present

b. Giving an expensive gift to a government official who can approve a potentially lucrative business venture

c. Wrapping the gift in bright red paper

3. List five appropriate gifts to offer your Chinese associates.


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