Celebrating Chinese New Year with Chinese friends can be great, but, when the cultural gap is large, it can be really easy to give the wrong gift for Chinese New Year.
Here, we've summarized 15 things you should not give as a Chinese New Year gift and their negative meanings in Chinese culture. Make sure that you don't give the wrong gift. For some more positive suggestions, check out some great Chinese New Year gift ideas.
15. Necklaces, Ties, and Belts — Too Intimate
Don't give a necklace as a gift to a platonic friend. Chinese people think things like necklaces, ties, and belts are associated with intimate relations. These things are often given by boyfriends/girlfriends or couples.
14. Wallets — Loss of Fortune
In traditional Chinese culture, gifting a wallet symbolizes giving away all your money and you might lose all your finances and luck. However, it is no problem to gift a wallet to your spouse or other family member who already shares your financial accounts and money.
13. Handkerchiefs — Saying Goodbye Forever
People generally give handkerchiefs at the end of a funeral and are a symbol of saying goodbye forever. Giving someone a gift like this insinuates you are saying goodbye forever, and severing all ties.
12. Dolls — Evil
Some people consider cloth dolls as 'vile characters'(小人literally 'small people'), which attract evil spirits.
11. Umbrellas — Break Up
Umbrellas are a bad idea to give as gifts, because the Chinese word for 'umbrella' (伞 sǎn /san/) sound like the word for 'breaking up' (散 sàn). Giving somebody an umbrella may insinuate that you feel your relationship with them has fallen apart.
10. Hats — Unlucky
In China, when an old person dies, his/her children wear a mourning hat, called a 孝帽 (xiào mào). So,a hat is taboo to give as a gift for Chinese New Year. In Handan (a city in Hebei Province), on Chinese New Year's Eve, people throw old hats onto the streets in the hope of throwing away grief and troubles.
Green hats, in particular, are a big no-no. In China, the saying 'to wear a green hat'(戴绿帽子 dài lǜ màozi) implies infidelity of a wife or girlfriend. It is the greatest insult to a man if given a green hat as a gift.
9. Black or White Objects — Used in Funerals
Black and white are traditional colors for funerals, so avoid presents that are largely black or largely white, or wrapping paper or envelopes in these colors. Red, however, is believed to be a festive and fortunate color, so red is always a great option for envelopes or gifts.
8. Sharp Objects — Cut Off Relationship
Giving anything sharp, such as a knife or scissors, is bad luck, as it's thought to sever the relationship. A common Chinese saying goes "one slash and its in two parts" to mean the end of a relationship between people.
7. Pears — Parting
Giving fruit is a good thing, but pears are taboo. The Chinese word for 'pears' (梨 lí /lee/) sounds the same as the word for leaving or 'parting' (离 lí) and it is considered bad luck.
6. Scented Candles — for Venerating the Dead
Candles are usually used alongside offerings for the dead in China. Therefore, they cannot be given as gifts, whether they are flameless candles, scented candles, or ordinary candles.
5. Cut Flowers — Presents for Funerals
Cut flowers are generally presents for funerals, so do not give them on Chinese New Year! This is especially so for Yellow Chrysanthemums and any white flowers, which represent death. White is an unlucky (funeral) color in Chinese culture, so white flowers should definitely be avoided.
4. Mirrors — Attract Ghosts
Mirrors are a bad idea for gifts throughout much of Asia, as they are believed to attract malicious ghosts. On top of that, they are easily broken and breaking things is a bad omen.
3. Shoes — Evil
Shoes are a bad idea for a present for Chinese New Year because the word for 'shoes' (鞋 xié /syeah/) sounds exactly like a word for bad luck or 'evil' (邪 xié). On top of that, shoes are something that you step on, and are thus seen as derogatory gifts. Avoid shoes at all costs.
2. Anything of '4' — Sounds Like Death
In Chinese, the number four (四 sì /srr/) sounds similar to the word for death (死 sǐ). Therefore, anything displaying the number 4 is considered unlucky. Do not give gifts in sets or multiples of four… or any other number with the digit four in — 14, 24, 34, 40, 44, etc.
That is why there is no floor four or room numbers containing four in some buildings and hotels, for example. For more on lucky and unlucky numbers, see Lucky Numbers and Colors in Chinese Culture.
1. Clocks or Watch — Bad Luck
In Chinese, saying 'giving a clock' (送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong/) sounds exactly like the Chinese words for 'attending a funeral ritual' (送终 sòng zhōng) and thus it is bad luck to gift a clock or watch.
On top of that, clocks and watches also symbolize the running out of time. This is especially an uncomfortable reminder for seniors. Giving a clock or watch as a gift is the biggest no-no in Chinese culture.