culture. This article provides some interesting information if the gift
is for a Chinese person.As China is a big place with many provinces the culture can vary
depending on which province the person comes from, but there are some
general themes that can be followed to avoid embarrassment.
What you need to know?
To the Chinese, anything that brings prosperity, longevity or good
fortune are fine and anything related or 'sounds like' death must be
avoided. This rule applies to both numbers and colors that are being
used in almost any occasions.
Note: The pronunciation is referring to Cantonese.
Bad numbers - number 4 is the most unwelcome number simply because it has a similar pronunciation to 'death'.
Good numbers – number 8 sounds like prosperity and number 9 for
longevity. Series of 8's or 9's such as '888', '99' are even better.
Numbers '168' and '138' are also very popular for they sound like
Bad colors - black and white are usually for funeral or mourning.
Therefore, you should only send white flowers to a funeral. Gift
wrapping paper should not be plain white or black. An exception,
although wearing black or white to a wedding is not a tradition, it is
acceptable if the wedding ceremony is held in a church which follows the western style.
Good colors - red and gold are for celebrations such as birthday and wedding.
Items to avoid - sharp objects such as knives or scissors as they would
'cut-off' a relationship. Umbrellas resemble separation. Clock sounds
like "attend a funeral". Handkerchiefs are for mourning. Books are not
for Cantonese people who love gambling because it sounds like "loss",
otherwise they are fine.
Do not be offended if your hosts do not open the gift in front of you
as it is not polite in the Chinese culture unless you insist. Also,
they do not normally accept your gift immediately in case you feel they
What are the popular items?
Cash can be used in almost all occasions. For happy occasions, it
should be put inside a 'red envelope' that has some words of blessing
pre-printed on it. Red envelopes can easily be found at most Chinese
grocery stores but always check with the staff to find one for the
occasion you want if you do not understand the Chinese characters on
the envelope otherwise you might give away one for the wrong occasion.
The amount inside the envelope should follows the numbering rules as
mentioned before i.e. use even numbers except number 4. Also, if you
are a couple then you should give two envelopes instead of one to cover
If it is used in a funeral, which is normally used for donation to the
charity or assist the grieving family financially, you can put small
amount of cash in 'odd' number in a normal 'white envelope'.