What are appropriate gifts for a China business partner? This is an especially important question during Chinese New Year – also known as “Spring Festival” – a time similar to Christmas when Chinese people all over the world exchange gifts with friends, family, and business contacts.
Being able to understand the culture of giving gifts in China will help ensure a long healthy relationship with your Chinese business partners.
Whether you are looking to build a business relationship, hoping to close a deal, or trying to repair a shaky relationship, check out these useful tips on sending gifts to Chinese business partners.
Business Gifts | The Importance of Guanxi
For Westerners looking to do business with Chinese companies, guanxi tops the list of cultural concepts to learn.
“Guanxi” directly translates to ‘relationship’ in English and is key to getting things done in China. In the business world, those with strong guanxi are well connected to the top leaders in business and government. Therefore, they are better situated to close deals.
So how does one get strong guanxi?
There is no easy answer, but the key is to first back away from our general Western notions of focusing first on the deal and instead direct all efforts on developing friendly and personal relationships with Chinese business partners.
To start, try offering gifts at formal meetings and social events as gifts are a symbol of respect and show you are invested in what should be a long-term relationship.
What is a Suitable Gift for a Chinese Business Partner?
Among the many types of gifts you can offer a Chinese business partner, the most suitable are items from your own country.
Luxury taxes are often added onto imported goods, making them really expensive in China. Bringing a special item from your home country that is either generally pricey or unavailable in China is likely to be a hit. Items from China are also appropriate, but you want to choose a well known and pricey brand.
Gift Pricing | A Delicate Balance
One additional factor you should always keep in mind is that gifts are always reciprocated in Chinese culture. If you give something that is far too expensive, it could embarrass your business partner as they will have to give back something of similar value to maintain face.
On the other hand, you do not want to insult your business partner with something too cheap. To help you choose an appropriate gift, you can use the following business gift ideas as a starting point in deciding what to purchase.
- Alcohol – Within the business culture, the customs of toasting and drinking alcohol in China is very big. Therefore, presenting an imported brand of wine or alcohol will be well-received by your Chinese business partners. Alternatively, you can offer baijiu or rice wine as a means of expressing affinity with Chinese culture. Just remember to buy a quality brand.
- Watches – No matter what culture you are from, having an additional watch to add to your collection is always a plus. However, do not gift any clocks as this can be interpreted in the Chinese culture as you wishing for your business partner’s untimely death.
- Gift Baskets – Stocked with fruit, snacks, alcohol and other delights, gift baskets are another option you can consider gifting to your Chinese business partners especially on holidays. With companies like GiftbasketsOverseas, you can easily send gifts for any occasion from outside of China.
- Skin care products – Giving a Chinese businesswomen Western skincare products will be well-received. These products are overly taxed and expensive in China.
- Tea – As Chinese are big tea drinkers – you may even see a tea table in the offices of all your Chinese business partners – tea is another quality gift you can consider. However, because very few Chinese drink foreign teas, I suggest giving Chinese tea. Green tea leaves of a particular variety from Hangzhou would be a good place to look for buying tea.
- Cigarettes – Many Chinese businessmen are big smokers. For this reason, giving large cartons of cigarettes from your home country is another good gift option.
- Hongbao – Translated as “red envelope”, hongbaos filled with crisp cash are suitable for weddings. The amount you should give varies from region to region and ultimately depends on your relationship. NOTE: hongbaos probably shouldn’t be given to Chinese business partners/customers for any occasion other than a wedding. Doing so may be considered a bribe.
Apart from gifts, taking your Chinese business partners out to a large meal, a nice bar, and even places like karaoke are additional ways to improve your business relationship. Just remember that if you are the host, you should pay for everything even when your business partner offers to cover all of the check.
Is Giving Gifts Considered a Bribe in China?
Giving gifts in an effort to get business done may sound a lot like quid pro quo bribery in the Western business world. Yet in Chinese culture, giving gifts is a means of establishing and maintaining a relationship, which ultimately closes business deals in China.
Additionally, avoiding gift giving with Chinese business partners will make you come across as impolite, uncultured, and not valuing your business relationship.
Considering the fact that gifts are reciprocated with similar gifts in return, it’s easier to understand that they function primarily to create and maintain a relationship rather than as bribes.
Genuine bribes in China are in the form of hard currency. Therefore it is best to avoid offering up a large sum of cash in a hongbao for your Chinese business partners unless you are giving a wedding gift. Other forms of bribery can include obvious things you would not generally do such as offering up company stocks or set cuts in company profits.
Provided you avoid giving financial benefits and abstain from giving gifts that are overly lavish in nature (e.g. offering up the latest sports car), your gift giving behavior will be construed simply as building guanxi.
Final Thoughts | Gifts for China Business Partners
The final thing to remember when giving gifts for China business partners is the presentation.
- Wrap the gift in red or place it in a red bag as this is a lucky color in China.
- Be sure to present the gift with two hands to be respectful – this also goes for giving or receiving business cards, money, or anything of value.
- As humbleness is wired into Chinese culture, your gift will likely be politely refused several times, so keep offering it while referencing your commitment to your business relationship.
Ultimately, there is no standard time window for cultivating strong guanxi ties, but as your Chinese business partners get to know and trust you better, you’re more likely to strike a deal.