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6 Unspoken Chinese New Year Gift Giving Etiquette Rules

Written by CindyUpdated Jan. 4, 2024

Chinese New Year is a time for giving; whether in the form of the popular, traditional red packet filled with money (红包 hóngbāo); or in the form of other, material goods. But beware, even the most generous offering can be tainted if you show bad etiquette when giving a gift.

Here are six simple rules of Chinese New Year gift giving etiquette. These etiquette tips will help you give the right gift, in the right way, at the right time.

1. Select the New Year gifts in right colors.

When giving a gift at Chinese New Year pay close attention to the color of the gift as well as the wrapping paper or bag in which it is delivered.

The best choices are red, yellow and gold as they all symbolize wealth and prosperity. Avoid white, as it is associated with funerals; and black or blue, as their are both synonymous with death.

chinese new year gift in red colorChinese new year gifts are always in red.

2. Give New Year gifts in right numbers.

Another thing to consider when planning gifts is Chinese superstition surrounding specific numbers. Never give a monetary amount that includes a four as the pronunciation of 四 (four) is very close to 死 (death).

Besides four, most other even numbers are a safe choice. The luckiest number in China is eight so a number like 88 is an ideal amount to give.

In addition to money, these rule can also be followed when it come to giving goods. A set of four gifts should be avoided; whereas a set of eight is considered to bring luck. Click to see Lucky Numbers and Colors in Chinese Culture.

Chinese lucky and unlucky numbersChinese lucky/unlucky numbers and their symbolism

3. When giving or receiving a gift always use two hands.

This is a custom traditionally extended to the giving of things like money (when buying something) and business cards. It is an important part of gift-giving etiquette across the country as it shows respect and appreciation towards the act and the giver.

chinese new year gife: red envelopes

4. Ensure the lucky money is crisp and new.

When giving money ensure it is crisp and new. People across China will spend the weeks preceding Chinese New Year withdrawing crisp notes from the bank. It is considered a sign of disrespect to give old or torn notes.

5. Always start by presenting a gift to the oldest (or most senior) member.

Always start by presenting a gift to the oldest (or most senior) member if giving money to a large group or whole family.

6. Don't open the red envelope or gift in front of the giver.

It is considered bad form to receive a gift and open it immediately in front of the giver. The person receiving the gift will likely express their thanks before putting the gift aside to open in private later; don't take this as a sign of the receiver not showing gratitude or respect. It is expected that if you are receiving a gift you will do the same; put it to one side and open it at a later point.

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