To Gift or Not to Gift? 5 Tips on Corporate Gift-Giving in China

by Courtney Gould Miller
May 28, 2014

{Corporate gift basket filled with Chinese specialties, c/o}

Chinaful has covered the do’s and don’ts of Chinese holiday gift-giving, for Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival. In China, gifts aren’t just for holidays. It’s much more common for business associates to exchange tokens as a sign of the relationship they have and hope to develop. Of course, gifting can also run afoul of anti-bribery laws, not only in foreign jurisdictions like the US, UK, or Canada, but also in China. Always remember to keep gifts reasonable (i.e., infrequent and not too expensive) and not tied to your receipt of any commercial benefit–gifts should be given without expectation that you will get anything in return.

Today, guest blogger Adam Reimer will share his tips for appropriate gifts for business contacts in China.  Adam is experienced in cross-cultural management and frequently travels overseas for his business, so he is well-versed in sending corporate gifts to China and has learned first-hand what is well-received and what isn’t.


Business relationships in America have become much more relaxed in recent years, but the trend hasn’t yet spread across the Pacific. In China, business relationships are extremely formal and proper protocol must be followed in order to ensure success. Corporate gift-giving in America is much more laid-back than in China, where giving gifts during business dealings is expected and considered a sign of respect. Follow these tips below to make sure when you send gifts to China they are well-received and appreciated.

1. ALWAYS bring a small gift to your first business meeting

Gift-giving is a sign of respect and sincerity in China, and most first business meetings start off with a small gift exchange. Be sure to stock up on things like chocolates, pens, lighters, books, or reasonably-priced foreign wines and liquors before your trip. A gift from your home country or region will always go over well as things that cannot be purchased in China are highly valued. Remember that your business gifts to China will not be opened immediately, but will be set aside, and may be refused up to three times before being modestly accepted. Make sure to follow these customs when you receive your gift as well, in order to respect the culture.

2. Be mindful of cultural taboos

The color red is extremely lucky, and should be incorporated in your gift to China. Other good colors are pink and yellow, as they represent happiness. Avoid gifts in white, black, or blue, as it is associated with death and other negative things. More things to avoid are anything with the numbers 4 and 9 on them, and pens with red ink. Don’t give anything sharp, as sharp objects like scissors signify the severing of a relationship. Clocks and handkerchiefs should also be avoided. While fruits are recommended, you should never give pears, as the word for pear is similar to the word for parting.

3. Be aware of seniority

The value of gifts to China should be in direct correlation with the seniority of the person as well as the length of time you have been in business with the company. Giving a present of great value too early in the relationship could cause embarrassment and may not be accepted. You should also be mindful to present the most senior party with your gift first, and then present gifts to China in the order of how the Chinese delegation is introduced. It would be wise to research the company beforehand to become familiar with the staff you will be meeting with and to better gauge who should receive what.

4. Send a thank-you or follow-up gift

Sending a thank-you gift is a great way to emphasize your commitment and sincerity in business dealings. Since punctuality is extremely important in Chinese business culture, it might be best to use a gifting service if you are only in China for a brief time. Between filing the paperwork, cross-border delivery, customs clearance, and local delivery the time for you to personally ship packages to China can range between 3-12 weeks, and frequently the gift recipient has to file comprehensive paperwork with the Customs Office in China. Using a gifting service like GiftBasketsOverseas when you send gifts to China ensures delivery within a week, and because gifting services work with partners in-country you can send things like fresh fruit and flowers.

5. When in doubt, bring a group gift

Offering a gift on behalf of your company is a great idea, as it includes everybody in the office and is almost impossible to be construed with a negative message. A wise idea would be to order gifts with your company’s logo on them ahead of time and bringing them with you. Some good group gifts ideas are personalized pilsner glasses given alongside beer brewed in your home state, or canvas totes with your company’s logo on them. Make sure to order a separate gift to China for the most senior person as well.

Have you given gifts to Chinese clients or business partners in the past?  What did you give?


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