What is a good gift to send to a Chinese person on Chinese New Year? Chinese New Year (aka “Spring Festival) is the most important holiday for Chinese people. Like the holiday season at home, it’s a time for sharing gifts to further deepen your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. But what exactly should you send? And if you’re not in China, how do you send gifts to China?
In this guide, we share some tips on what would be an appropriate gift to give to Chinese friends on Chinese New Year, the proper etiquette for giving, as well as how to deliver your gift from outside of China.
Let’s dig in!
What is an Appropriate Gift for Chinese Friends?
The ultimate rule to follow when choosing who to send a gift and how much to spend is the level of your relationship with the person and their family (referred to as “guanxi” in Chinese). If you are really close friends or the person you want to send the gift to is a business partner or boss, you should splurge a bit on the price.
Gifts to general friends do not need to be too elaborate and can be even as simple as treating them to a fancy meal like hot pot. Just remember that when treating Chinese to meals, be up front that the meal is your treat and be prepared for your friends to jump up at the opportunity to pay the bill when the check comes. Continue to insist that the meal is your treat and say they can treat you next time.
If you prefer to send a physical gift, there are a few gift ideas that have been tried and true for gifting to Chinese people during the Chinese New Year (or anytime for that matter). Below is a list of gift ideas that are likely to be well received by your Chinese friends and families:
- Basket of food: If visiting a friend’s home during Chinese New Year, it is customary to bring with you some fruit, drinks, and snacks to be polite. Go to the local market and pick out a bunch of fresh apples. Other items you can include is high-grade milk, yogurt, and anything else that your friend would enjoy. Additionally, grab some sunflower seeds, peanuts, and popular China candy as this is a common snack to eat while chatting with friends during the new year. Alternatively, you can also visit any large supermarket leading up to Chinese New Year and pick up prepackaged gift sets to give to friends.
- Alcohol: Chinese New Year is a time for toasting to your friends’ health and making best wishes. For this reason, consider sending a couple bottles of Chinese baijiu or rice wine. You do not necessarily need to pick up bottles of Maotai (the most well-known Chinese baijiu brand), but do your best to buy a quality brand.
- Tea: If your friends are not drinkers or if you are hoping to not get roped into any toasts with baijiu, tea is a great substitute for alcohol. Like with baijiu, you will want to purchase a quality brand and not your run of the mill options found in the local market.
- Hongbaos: Translated simply as “red envelopes”, Chinese tradition is to give children hongbaos filled with money. The amount depends on the guanxi you have with the parents, but count on at least budgeting 200 RMB to as much as 600 RMB per red envelope. Be sure all the bills are crisp and brand new from the bank.
- Western imports: The bottom line for any gift is to give something that your friend cannot easily get on their own. Western imported goods – be it alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, or even nutritional supplements and vitamins – will be well received.
How to Send Gifts to China from Outside China
You don’t need to let oceans and other vast distances prevent you from sending a gift to your closest Chinese friends on Chinese New Year. There are a number of different options that are available to you,
#1 Gift Basket Overseas | Sending Gifts to China
I’ve started using a service called GiftBasketsOverseas, a company that provides people an opportunity to send appropriate gifts to China without the hassle of finding, shipping and worrying about customs themselves.
After placing an order through GiftbasketsOverseas, your gift basket is assembled locally in China and promptly sent to the addressee. Under this model, you and the person you are sending the gift to benefit in many ways including:
- No international shipping fees and customs due
- As gift baskets are assembled within China, there is no need to worry about your pricey gift getting lost in transit
- Deliveries can be made in as little as three business days (as opposed to weeks in regular international post)
Additionally, as GiftbasketsOverseas employ gift experts in every region they operate, you can count on your gift being well received by your Chinese friend in China. On their Gift Baskets to China page, within the numerous gift basket themes, select Lunar New Year, which will direct you to a series of quality gift options. My only hope is they will remove the white flowers on their page to show they are more culturally aware of proper gift giving in China.
#2 Amazon China | Ordering Gifts to Send in China
With Amazon China, you can purchase western products and ship them to your friend’s home address in China. Shipping to China is also much quicker than what you would expect and can generally count on your package to arrive within 5 to 9 business days.
Note that if you are an Amazon Prime member, don’t expect your benefits to carry over to the Amazon China marketplace (although I still enjoy some benefits of Amazon in China!). Also, while most of the website is in Chinese, there is a link on the top navigation bar that says “In English” for those who can’t read Chinese (and why not learn to read Chinese??).
#3 USPS / FedEx / UPS – Sending Your Own Gifts to China
If you prefer and package a gift on your own, then you can send the present internationally through USPS, FedEx, and UPS. However, sending a package through these couriers can be pricey.
Log onto each organization’s website to get an accurate quote. Timeline is another factor to keep in mind as shipping through a mail courier can take up to over a month to deliver. The last thing you would want is your Chinese New Year’s gift to arrive well after the celebrations end.
Finally, make sure you understand the rules regarding customs when sending your own package. Simple things like beef jerky, powdered sugar, and a new iPad have kept my packages waiting at China customs for months. Avoiding these issues is one of the benefits of using either GiftBasketOverseas or Amazon China.
Cultural Faux Pas | Giving a Gift in China
There are a number of important cultural things to consider before buying a gift for your friend in China. These include:
- During Chinese New Year, do not give anything in white or black. This is particularly the case with white chrysanthemums and any other white flower, which are exhibited during funerals and on tombs. While they look beautiful to Westerners, to Chinese they scream death. If sending flowers, make sure they are red, which is the lucky color in China.
- Be sure to also not send gifts in sets of four because the Chinese pronunciation of four (sì) sounds like death (sǐ). Clocks are an additional gift to be avoided because the phrase to give a clock “song zhong” sounds identical to “sending you to the end” which can be interpreted as you wishing someone dead. Fortunately, this only applies to clocks rather than watches.
Apart from being aware of all the taboo gifts you can give, you also want to be well versed-in Chinese etiquette for gifting.
- If giving a gift in person, you should always hand over a gift with two hands to be polite.
- Additionally, don’t expect for your friend to immediately open the gift as this is frowned upon in Chinese culture.
- In terms of presentation, wrap the gift in red paper or place it in a red bag or box.
Final Thoughts | Send Gifts to China
Sending a gift to your Chinese friends on Chinese New Year is the perfect way to wish them fortune and happiness in the new year.
A good rule to live by when buying a gift for your Chinese friend is to either focus on food or alcohol in tune with the season. Otherwise, consider buying your friend a gift that they cannot normally buy in China such as a Western import suitable to your friend’s taste.
What other ideas do you have for giving a gift in China? Leave your ideas in the comment section below!