There are hundreds of articles online about giving gifts to hosts and associates in China, and yet visitors to China are always asking what they should bring as gifts. This means that in China, the art of giving is just as complex as dining out and shopping. Giving and accepting gifts is an important part of Chinese culture, and is something all visitors to China are probably going to have to deal with before they return home. I am not expert on the subject, but below are some important notes that I have remembered based on my experience.

1) Bring something from your hometown
This is the most popular guideline and I agree with it. Something from your hometown will make for an important ice breaker and will help the recipient remember you long after you leave. These gifts include books about your hometown (mainly pictures of course), special local products, and items that display your hometown’s characteristics.
This rule often gets confused wit the “do not bring anything ‘made in China’” rule, which I agree with slightly less. There are plenty of “made in China” items, such as board games and trendy products from your home country, that are either for export only or simply not available in China. Therefore, do not let the “made in China” rule necessarily disqualify potentially great gifts.

2) Bring gifts that show abundance
It is better to bring a bunch of small gifts and mementoes rather than one large gift. By showing up with your hands full of bags of presents, you show abundance and a willingness to share this abundance with your hosts. Similarly, it is best to bring gifts in pairs for the same reasons.

3) Try to give something with meaning
Besides finding an item that represents your hometown, region or culture, you also want to give gifts that represent your personality. For example, if you are a basketball fan, bringing an NBA jersey or poster would be a great choice. If you like art, an illustrated book about your favorite artist would be ideal. This gives the recipient both an inside look into your personality and a look into your culture, and will strengthen your friendship.

4) Remember the children
If the recipient has a family, do not forget to include them in the gift exchange. A patriarch would be much happier to receive several gifts for his children rather than items for himself. This is a situation where I think the “no made in China” rule is especially inapplicable, as there are several great gifts (Lego, Playdough, etc.) that may be made in China but are still hard to come by in China.

5) Other things to remember
Reciprocate gifts you have received by sending gifts of your own, not thank-you letters.
While giving consumable items (food, etc.) is fine, it is best to also give some more permanent items, to demonstrate a long-lasting relationship.
Do not give items in group of 4, do not give clocks, and avoid white gift wrap— all of these have a connotation of “death”.
Most Chinese will politely refuse a gift at first and only accept after your insistence.
It is standard for the recipient not to open the gifts in front of you.

If anyone has any great gift ideas or has recently given impressive gifts to their Chinese hosts, I’d love to read what they were, as I am always trying to be on the good side of the face-giving equation. Please leave your ideas in the comments section to share with others.