Doing business with China: gifting etiquette


Building personal relationships is an intrinsic part of doing business in China and exchanging gifts can help that greatly. But what do you take, and who should receive your gifts?

Here are a few tips from Ting Zhang, founder and CEO of, the unique online platform dedicated to helping Western companies do business in China.

Ting says: “My planning for a trip to China usually starts with a list of people to visit, and then I work out gifts to take and spend some time ordering them in advance. If I’m really short of preparation time, then I’ll grab some presents at airport stores, although of course that can prove more costly.

“If you know someone very well, then a personalised gift is the best way to show your consideration. However, this can be time consuming and expensive if you are meeting a lot of people in a trip. 

“I would get something that most people would like to have and can share with their family, such as nutrition supplements or chocolates.  I sometimes get souvenirs with a Cambridge or London feature, or whatever represents your city or country.”

In a recent trip, Ting’s gifts included:

  • Tea (English Breakfast and Earl Grey) in nice tins
  • Scottish shortbread
  • For the first time, New Zealand Manuka Honey, “which approved to be quite popular among my female contacts!”

Reciprocity is embedded in the Chinese relationship, so she often ends up with gifts to bring back: “This is typically Chinese tea, which we all enjoy in our office and with our visitors.”

Like the tradition of the Christmas card, it is the intention that matters – not the value of gifts, she adds. “Don’t spend a lot on expensive gifts, especially if you are giving to Chinese government officials or SOE chiefs.  The current regulation is starting to look like what we have in the UK – officials must declare them if they are over a certain value. For those more formal occasions, use your company’s own corporate gifts, or consider getting some business souvenirs - for example cuff links with UK/China flags, which can be a safe gift.

“Write and let us know about any gifts you have taken that proved to be popular, and we will give you £30 off any new project completed on”

Finding help to plan your trip and organise your schedule is one of the ways can assist people in business. It matches talented Chinese speaking professionals with Western businesses who need help in dealing with their Chinese partners and audiences, providing a source of qualified people to undertake projects and offer information, knowledge and cultural insight.

Business users post their projects on to the Crayfish website and freelancing Chinese speakers bid for the work, with the transaction carried out through the platform. Users pay a fee after they accept a freelancer's proposal, with payment – less commission – released on completion of the job. The Crayfish team also offers to project manage on behalf of the client for larger and more complex tasks.

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