To be empty-handed when a Chinese executive gives a gift to you isn’t advisable – not only is this boorish but it will put you in a position of debt in the minds of the Chinese partners. Obviously this isn’t such a good situation to be in when it’s time to negotiate! Show yourself as a person who understands Chinese culture by knowing what’s acceptable and what should be avoided at all costs.
Many Chinese are still superstitious, so words and numbers are of the utmost importance when choosing a gift. For example, never give a clock as a gift in China. It’s a big no-no because in Chinese the expression for “Give a clock” sounds very much the phrase, “Attending a funeral ritual.” Clocks run forward and this is a reminder that time is running out, particularly for elderly citizens.
Knives, envelope openers, scissors, or any metal objects with sharp or sawlike edges are also inappropriate gifts. To the Chinese, receiving such items means that you intend to sever the relationship. In China, a saying goes: “One slash and it’s in two parts.” Giving a mirror is a big mistake because they are thought to attract ghosts. Also, they can break easily and this is a bad omen in China.
What can you give a Chinese business partner without causing a loss of face? Wine is a superb gift, or as the Chinese call them, “foreign grape wines.” Remember to include a corkscrew. Any gifts given in sets of six or eight will be greatly appreciated because those are lucky numbers. Four, however, is unlucky because the word for this number sounds like the word for death!
The wrapping paper should be selected with care. Red has been favored since ancient times and is the best choice – it’s used at weddings and symbolizes good fortune. Pink and orange are also great choices. Colors not appreciated at all are blue, white, and black, all of which are viewed as either sad or evil.