Guest Post: Gift Giving in China

My first guest post is from My New Chinese Wife, a resource devoted to finding love in China, discussing one particularly interesting item blacklisted as far as gift giving is concerned in China.

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The Legend of the Green Hat

Gift giving is one of the most important gestures in China, so regardless of you coming here for business or to meet someone special, this is a custom that you are bound to get yourself sucked into at one point or another. I’m sure that you can find literally thousand of websites on the net talking about Chinese gift giving etiquettes, but in this article I will restrict myself to only one of these.

Before I get started, I suppose it is important to try and shed some light on why gifts are so important in this part of the world. I guess the main reason is that China possesses an ancient culture steeped in Confucianism, which is largely based on respect, relationships, and rituals—the purpose of which is maintaining harmony within one’s family, network of friends, colleagues, and society at large.

Gifts play a key role in this as they allow the Chinese people to not only demonstrate their respect to elders and superiors but also allow them to show their commitment and enthusiasm toward maintaining close relationships with family and friends. Gifts also play an important role when building new relationship networks with other business people.

Like many other things in China, gift giving is neither simple nor is it straight forward. Giving the wrong gift could have negative implications, making you look like a fool to the person you are actually trying to please. In China, even some ordinary things have an extra-ordinary story to tell. One of the most interesting examples of this is the legend behind the green hat or “绿帽子(lǜ màozi)”.

It is said that in ancient China the wife of a merchant had an affair with a cloth seller. She made a green hat for her husband to wear, and when the husband went out for business, the cloth seller would see the green hat and know that he could meet his lover. Since that time, “绿帽子(lǜ màozi)” has been the symbol of a wife betraying her husband.

Other versions of the story say that the phrase apparently sounds similar to the word for cuckold. Or that during the Yuan Dynasty, the families of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats. And yet another says that male brothel workers in the Tang Dynasty wore green hats. There’s even another story in which a hard-working man accidentally left the house wearing a green hat that his wife’s lover had left by mistake.

So as you can see, there are a number of legends behind green hats and none of them have a happy ending (except for the wife’s lover). That being said, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that any green colored head gear would not make a good gift for your father-in-law or colleague, for example. This golden rule goes for basically any head gear of any kind. So if you are a Boston Celtics fan or a Bremen Werder freak, you might want to leave your caps at home…

Interesting enough, I had a chance to unknowingly be a lǜ màozi for a day. Back in December of 2010 while visiting Beijing, I found myself under some of the most frigid temperatures I had ever encountered.  In an attempt to protect myself from the sub-zero winds blowing in from Mongolia, I covered my head with the hood of my green jacket. I was walking around all day long with my head covered in green and wondering why people would sometimes give me a strange look. It wasn’t until later that night that I was explained why.

So if you are looking to strengthen your relationship with a male business partner or just trying to grease your future father-in-law, you might want to stay away from green.

Author Bio: C. Fernandes hails from Rio de Janeiro, but has lived in so many places he sometimes loses count. He is currently in a serious relationship with a Chinese girl and hoping to get married soon. You can read more of his and other stories at My New Chinese Wife

10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Gift Giving in China

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