Author: Christine Yu
In China, as in many other countries, giving gifts is a way to maintain good relationships between friends and relatives. From generation to generation, Chinese people have developed a culture that appreciates some gifts but rejects others. This is mainly due to the superstitions linked to them and the phonetic reading of some characters. Here is a list of gift taboos and the meaning behind them.
- Umbrellas: The character’s sound (sǎn) is similar to “breaking up” (sàn), thus symbolizing the fading of the relationship between you and the recipient.
- Green hats: There’s a saying in China that associates men with green hats: “to wear a green hat” means that their partner is unfaithful.
- Necklaces, comb, tie, belts: These presents are usually given between people with intimate relations, like couples.
- Handkerchiefs: In general, they are used at the end of funerals as farewell greetings.
- Pears: Gifting fruit baskets is a common gift in China, but pears should not be included because the sound of their character (lí) is similar to that of leaving, parting ways (lí).
- Sharp objects: Giving objects used to cut things means that you want to cut off the relationship: its “one knife, two halves” (一刀两断), as the saying goes.
FUNERALS AND DEATH
- Clocks: “Giving a clock” (sòng zhōng) is read in the same way people address the completion of a burial, giving the idea you want to wish bad luck. Furthermore, they also symbolize the running out of time, which is a sensitive topic for senior people. Unless it’s from a very luxury brand, avoid them as gifts.
- White Cut flowers: White Cut flowers, especially the white ones, are usually given during funerals and symbolize death.
- Number 4: In Chinese, the number 4 (sì) and the word death (sǐ) have a similar pronunciation, so anything related to this number is unpolite. In fact, many buildings in China do not have the 4th and the 14th floors, corresponding to numbers 13 and 17 of Western culture.
- Shoes: “Shoes” (xié) is a homophone for “evil” (xié) and tends to be associated with the idea of parting ways, although it is appreciated as a gift for relatives.
- Mirrors: Some people believe that mirrors attract ghosts, so make sure that the person who’s going to receive them is not superstitious.