Gifts for Chinese visitors. Not always so easy!

By John Holsapple

Finding appropriate, Made-in-USA gifts is not always such an easy task. Here are a few suggestions.


Next time you walk into any store, I challenge you to find one product made in the US. Now if you are lucky enough to spot such a product, consider the tastes of a Chinese businessman. I am going to guess that whatever you have in hand is likely worse than giving any gift at all. This is especially true if you have a limited budget. So what are your options?

Every Chinese delegation has differing tastes coming from various regions and growing up with different cultural backgrounds. China is no homogenous place, so make sure to account for those differences when contemplating the winning gift.

What to look for in a Chinese gift?

  • Made in the US- Obviously if you are going to give regional gift and it has “Michigan”or “Detroit” plastered on the front, then this issue is not as big a problem. This is also true of certain high-end electronic products, such as Apple products. While these products are made in China, they are more expensive there and sometimes released much later.
  • Gold or Red- Gifts that are either gold or red tend to be better. These colors carry tend to carry meaning such as luck. Also keep in mind the number 8 carries the same kind of meaning and 4 is bad luck. Avoid white, black or blue gift wrapping. In some places the color green should be avoided. There are other color issues depending on the region.
  • Gift wrapping or boxing- The wrapping and boxing should be gold or red if you can manage it. Also keep in mind that the wrapping is often as important as the gift, so look for the flashy boxes.
  • Business status- Keep the various roles business roles in mind when you are providing gifts. You want to make sure to provide equal level gifts to businessmen of the same rank and more significant gifts to the more important folks.
  • Bad gifts- Don’t give clocks, pens with red ink, fans, and green hats. Also try to avoid giving food. It might look cheap. Also knives and scissors are not good, but who would buy those anyway?
  • Gifts for display- They often want to put their gifts on display, so make sure it would look good in a display cabinet.

Other items of note (Keep in mind many Chinese are aware of US gift customs and don’t hold foreigners to the same standard. Some of these customs are also not so strictly followed.)

  • Two handed pass off- Pass off and receive gifts with two hands. This also goes for business cards.
  • Opening of gifts- Gifts are usually not opened in front of the giver
  • Gift refusal- Sometimes gifts are refused. Keep trying, because they are usually accepted unless international baggage issues comes into play. Also you might want to at first refuse a gift you receive. Make sure to tread lightly. When you are refusing a gift, it should obviously be a polite refusal on the grounds the gift is too good or not needed to form a strong business relationship.
  • Pre-wrapped gifts- Gifts wrapped before arrival in China may be opened by customs.
  • Chinatown- Sometimes the best gifts for Chinese visitors can be found in Chinatown. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but these shops cater to Chinese tourists selling many US made goods that are coveted in China.

Some good Chinese gifts (Keep in mind the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act).

  • Books- Books with lots of pictures of noteworthy items from your region.
  • Regional items- This can include:
    • Models of US cars
    • Small figurines of famous regional icons
    • Locally made crafts- Be cautious that they don’t look too cheap. If you live in Detroit, do not give Pewabic Pottery. A recent Chinese delegation I hosted was given the same Pewabic pieces by four different organizations.
    • Locally made luxury chocolate
    • University clothing- Less famous universities are less important.
    • Clothing with the name of the city or state they are visiting
  • Luxury goods- Gucci, Coach, Louis Vitton, etc.
  • Famous perfumes
  • Famous alcohols- Keep in mind liquid restrictions for airplane flights. Johnnie Walker Gold Label and Cognac are some popular alcohols to give.
  • Ginseng- US grown Ginseng is supposedly of higher quality than Chinese ginseng. Make sure to buy the boxes with American flags on them.
  • A fancy pen
  • Apple products such as iPhones, iPads, etc.
If you have any other gift suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

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3 Responses to “Gifts for Chinese visitors. Not always so easy!”

  1. Brad Pritts
    January 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    I have read elsewhere that commemorative coins are a good choice. I’ve purchased US Mint proof sets and/or individual proof coins and given them to some Chinese colleagues, along with the suggestion that we can make a lot of money together. They seem to be well received. They’re also quite portable and unbreakable.

    Noting the comment regarding packaging in the blog above, one negative is that these usually come in blue packaging, so a red and/or gold over-wrap would be a good idea.

    • admin
      February 6, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      That is a great idea. I will keep that in mind next time I am buying gifts.


  1. How to host a Chinese delegation. Part 1. | ChinAnalyst - December 13, 2011

    [...] When do you present gifts, you ask? Again good question. The internet says at the end of the delegation, but based off my experience that is bullshit. When do we give gifts in the States? Exactly. I have no idea. I think the best practice here is to present gifts around the time they present gifts to you or near the end of the delegation. Keep in mind they need to pack those gifts so I would certainly not give them on the last day. (For more tips on gifts, check out my post”Gifts for Chinese visitors. Not always to easy!“) [...]

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