Today, we have another Chinese New Year topic that we felt deserved its own post — namely, the giving of gifts. While most Chinese appreciate gifts on the New Year (and on any other time of the year, really), they appreciate it more when the giver is aware of basic gift-giving etiquette. If you're non-Chinese, and you'd like to give your Chinese friend a little token this Year of the Rooster, read on.
Red, gold, and yellow gifts are best.
Gold and red symbolize wealth and good luck, respectively, so they're the best colors for Chinese New Year gifts. If you can't find gold gifts, you can always substitute with a similar shade of yellow. And even if the gift itself isn't red/gold/yellow, wrapping the gift in the aforementioned colors will definitely score you points with your recipient.
White, black, and blue gifts are worst.
White is associated with funerals, while black and blue are associated with death. Even if you wrap gifts with these colors in red/gold/yellow, it won't make a difference: If any of the "bad luck" colors are present, then the present is taboo, period.
Give gifts in even numbers (except four).
In Chinese culture, it's considered good manners to give gifts in pairs. This is especially true for gifts that come in sets of eight, since eight is the luckiest number. However, giving gifts in sets of four is a no-no, since the Chinese word for four (shi) has the same pronunciation as the word for death (shi).
Avoid gifts whose names are homophonic with bad words.
For example, shoes aren't allowed as New Year gifts, since the Chinese word for shoe (xie) sounds the same as the word for evil (xie). The same goes for clocks, whose Chinese name (song zhong) has the same pronunciation as the phrase that means "attending a funeral" (song zhong). Other taboo gifts on Chinese New Year include pears (li, which is also the word for "parting") and umbrellas (san, which is also the word for "break up").
Avoid giving flowers associated with funerals.
Avoid giving mirrors.
Since mirrors are said to be entryways to the world of the dead, they tend to attract malicious spirits. Also, breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck to the owner, so mirrors shouldn't be given as New Year presents either.
Avoid giving handkerchiefs.
By giving a handkerchief, you're essentially saying goodbye to someone forever — since it's customary to give out handkerchiefs in funerals as a sign of eternal parting.
Avoid giving necklaces to people who aren't your lovers.
To the Chinese, necklaces carry a very intimate meaning. Unless the recipient is your sweetheart or spouse, you're better off finding another kind of jewelry, lest you want your recipient to get the wrong idea about your relationship.
Avoid giving green hats.
This is especially taboo with married men. Because the phrase for "wearing a green hat" (dai lu mao zi) is homophonic with the phrase that means "cuckold," this gift is tantamount to an insult as far as the recipient is concerned.
Give/Receive gifts with two hands.
When you use both hands to give/receive gifts, it means you have the utmost respect for the other person. Similar customs can be found in countries like Japan, where giving/receiving business cards with two hands is considered good manners.
When giving money, use new bills.
Don't be surprised at the kilometric ATM queues this New Year. People will be rushing to get the newest, crispest bills available, because giving ang pao filled with old, torn bills is considered disrespectful.
Give gifts according to seniority.
If you're giving presents to more than one person, you should start with the eldest/most senior of the group. The Chinese are very particular about social hierarchy, so it's important to follow this rule.
Give gifts privately.
Otherwise, the recipient might be embarrassed, or feel that s/he's the undeserving "favorite" of the giver. If you must give your gift in a public place, pull aside the recipient, ask him/her to meet you in a private and quiet place, and give your gift there.
Give gifts appropriate to the receiver.
Obviously, you wouldn't give alcohol to an underage person, or sweet candies to an elderly recipient. Think about what the other person likes (given the constraints above), and choose your gift based on that.
Now that you know the do's and don'ts of giving gifts on Chinese New Year, know also that you still have time to rush to the malls and pick out lucky presents for your loved ones. Until then, have a happy weekend, and gong xi fa cai!