China First Hand

21 February 2006

For You…I Insist

Filed under: Culture,Personal — china1sthand @ 3:07 pm


When I first came here, I brought gifts from England for my hosts.  They didn’t seem grateful.  Today my surrogate mother visited me and signalled that a huge, beautiful, expensive-looking box of loveliness was for me!  There’s just different ways of doing things here.


Whenever I asked Chinese people for advice on appropriate gifts, they struggled.  Gifts are not a regular part of Chinese life.  …And yet Chinese people are so happy – proving you don’t need presents!  Isn’t that great?  Chinese don’t immediately open up a gift and show gratitude because humility is valued.  Historically, you couldn’t appear more important that others.  In a world dominated by consumerism, with everyone fighting for the latest product that still doesn’t bring happiness, doesn’t this alternative deserve far more promotion?  Worryingly, I am not sure these values will be continued by the young.


gifts.JPGPeople do buy gifts in China; it is just not regular.  On my two visits to China, I was overwhelmed with many gifts (some in picture).  My friend usually brought something back to the UK from China, like Chinese sweets that are unlike anything in Britain, or cute little figures with big smiles! 


Choosing an appropriate gift is difficult.  Colours and numbers and many other things have lots of symbolism attached, and although many people say these are less relevant today, you can’t know how much your receiver reads into it.  Big no-no gifts are clocks that are linked with death, and knives or scissors that symbolise the severing of a relationship.  If in doubt about colour, always go for red.  (…Can you guess why I chose this blog template?)  Red is a symbol of happiness, prosperity, fame and fortune.  Wedding dresses are red, and gifts of money are given in red envelopes.  Avoid giving something in multiples of 7 or 4 – although 8 is good.  Contrary to unlucky 13 in the West, this is a good number here!  Instead of avoiding a floor 13, it is quite the opposite…  I regularly visited a building where the 7th floor was replaced by 6B and the 14th was called 13B – so there were two floor 13s!  Numbers are all about the luck they bring.  Don’t forget that the next Olympics are in Beijing, due to start on 8/8/08 at 8pm.  I remember when the news reported a number plate containing two 8’s that sold for $10,000.  In Wuhan, we got very confused when our taxi would not take us over the river.  He said he wouldn’t cross on certain days – and to find a willing cabbie you had to know the date and look out for a suitable number plate!  There is no official religion here (although perhaps you can see the influence of Buddhism).  I suppose all cultures have different ways of explaining the unknown.


Even once you’ve chosen your gift, it is still difficult to give it!  Polite Chinese will never accept a present on first offering, so if you really want it to be theirs, you must insist.  I don’t think Westerners are comfortable being pushy – particularly with presents.  It can also appear rude to us that they refuse a gift …and then once we insist, they still seem ungrateful!


Chinese think it is polite that if you receive a gift, you should give another of equal value.  I’m not sure that this makes sense to me.  I give presents because I think the person deserves it, so for them to feel obliged to return the favour goes completely against the point.  My hosts had been incredibly kind to me, providing me with food and company – and a free home!!  I desperately wanted to give gifts as some way toward repaying them.  I kept having to try creative ways of giving, so that they couldn’t refuse – and every time I gave a gift I always got one back!  What do I do?  On my last day, I met my hosts for the last time at a farewell dinner.  I gave them a big golden box of fancy chocolates, wrapped in red.  I went home pleased to have completed my plan successfully –they won’t have time now to find anything in return!  That evening a knock came on our door…. I now own several pairs of brand new Chinese tights!  I didn’t look grateful – but I was.





  1. […] I am experiencing the same thing now in Beijing. My friend gave me a bag full of oranges on my first day, as a gift from her parents. I had not even met them, and they had supplied me with a delicious source of food. However it wasn’t just a practical help – I now realise that oranges at New Year are symbols for wealth (due to the similarity in sound between the Chinese words ‘orange’ and ‘wealth’). Their intentions were even kinder than I first thought, and this was the first of a long string of good intentions. This also included my lifeline. SIM cards and mobiles are very expensive here for short-term use, and using my own was even pricier! They lent me a mobile for the time I was here. This was not only the basis of communication for my working life – and therefore fundamental to my future income – but it also meant I had a friend, translator, guide and fountain of knowledge on hand at any time. It gave peace of mind. This is so important when you’re in an unfamiliar environment. […]

    Pingback by Welcome « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

    • 1972年,日本著名歷史學家 井上清 Kiyoshi Inoue 寫了 《釣魚島的歷史解析》 一書,該書再版為書名 《釣魚島歷史與主權》。



      眾所周知,釣魚群島自明朝以來就是中國的領土 – 井上清寫到日本及琉球在1867年以前實際上沒有一份釣魚群島的歷史文獻。



      井上清幾乎是在日本有影響力的歷史學家當中唯一一個敢于尊重事實,堅持說釣魚群島屬于中國的 – 這樣絕無僅有的一個例證。

      Comment by San oversee — 25 November 2011 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

      • English Translation:

        1972 years, the famous Japanese historian Inoue Kiyoshi Inoue wrote a clear “analytical history of the Diaoyu Islands,” a book that reprinted the title “History and the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands.”

        In the book, INOUE wrote:

        November 1971, my first trip to Okinawa, where he collected a lot of information on the history of Diaoyu Islands, early 1972, I took advantage of the opportunity to travel to Western Europe, access to the British Navy British Navy Archive draw southern China, Taiwan and Okinawa’s charts, logbooks and exploration records.

        As we all know, Diaoyu Islands since the Ming Dynasty of China’s territory – INOUE wrote in 1867 in Japan and Okinawa before the fact does not have a fishing Islands historical documents.

        Japan and Okinawa in the contrary, China has many islands on fishing literature.

        At least in the mid-16th century, the Diaoyu Islands have a Chinese name. Such as the Diaoyu Islands, Rattus Island, Red Island, and so on.

        INOUE influential in Japan is almost the only one among historians dare to respect the facts, insisting that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China – a unique example of such.

        Comment by china1sthand — 16 January 2012 @ 11:31 pm

  2. […] I’ve had a chance to explore my local area this week. Beijing currently has 6 ring roads (though the first one is fiction) and we are between the third and fourth. Walking west from my home you can see the hills on the outskirts of the city. Five minutes walk east is the river that goes to the Summer Palace. South is the shopping centre, with major bus stops behind. North is a beautiful park. […]

    Pingback by Walkabout « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

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