BEIJING - Recently, a British minister apologised after giving the Mayor of Taipei a watch as a gift. In Chinese culture, giving others a watch as a gift is an absolute taboo.
According to Chinese culture, there are some taboos you should bear in mind when choosing gifts for others. As Chinese New Year - which is also a gift-giving season - draws near, here's a review of these taboos.
NO WATCHES OR CLOCKS FOR SENIORS
A clock - pronounced as "zhong" in Mandarin, which also sounds like the Chinese word for "the end" - is considered the same thing as a watch.
Therefore, giving someone a clock or a watch implies "your time is up", a serious slight, especially for elders.
If you really want to buy someone a good-looking watch, you can let him select it, then you pay for it.
NO UMBRELLAS OR PEARS FOR LOVERS
Umbrellas, pronounced as "san" in Mandarin, and pears, pronounced as "li", both sound like the words for "separation".
So, it's inappropriate to give lovers umbrellas and pears, because it will seem like you want them to be separated.
Also, don't give friends umbrellas as a gift; it is not a good symbol of friendship. Of course, the timely act of giving someone an umbrella on a rainy day can be an exception.
NO GREEN HATS FOR MEN
Hats are not a good choice for gifts, because a long time ago in China, there were too many bad things linked to hats.
For example, when elders die, their descendents had to wear "filial piety hats".
Green hats for males are especially bad. There is a Chinese saying that when a man wears a "green hat", it means that his wife is having an affair, which is a serious insult to the man.
NO MEDICINE FOR THE HEALTHY
Giving someone medicine as a gift implies that the receiver will get sick, or that you want him to get sick. Even health-care products are inappropriate if the recipients are not close friends or relatives.
NO SHOES FOR NON-FAMILY MEMBERS
Shoes are pronounced as "xie", a homonym for "evil" in Mandarin. So, they are considered unlucky gift items.
If the shoes you give are smaller than the wearer's feet, it implies that you are "giving someone tight shoes to wear", which also bears the meaning of "making things hard for someone".
AVOID BLACK OR WHITE GIFT PACKAGES
In Chinese culture, black and white are colours associated with funerals or unfortunate things, and are considered unlucky colours. So, it's better to use gift packaging in red or other warm colours, as they symbolise happiness and harmony.