1. Sharp Objects — Cut Off Relationship
Giving somebody a sharp object insinuates that you want to cut off your relationship with them. A common Chinese saying goes “one slash and it’s in two parts” to mean the end of a relationship between people.
2. The Number 4 — Sounds Like Death
In Chinese, the number four (四 sì /srr/) sounds similar to the word for death (死 sǐ). Therefore, anything with the number 4 is considered unlucky — do not give gifts in sets of four.
That is why there is no floor four in some buildings and hotels, for example. Often a number 8 is added in front of the 4 for hotel rooms on the fourth floor.
3. Shoes — Evil
Shoes are a bad idea for a present for Chinese New Year because the word for ‘shoes’ (鞋 xié /syeah/) sounds exactly like a word for bad luck or ‘evil’ (邪 xié). On top of that, shoes are something that you step on, and are thus not good gifts. Avoid shoes at all costs.
4. Handkerchiefs — A Symbol of Saying Goodbye Forever
People generally give handkerchiefs at the end of a funeral, and are a symbol of saying goodbye forever. Giving someone a gift like this insinuates you are saying goodbye forever, and severing all ties.
5. Clocks — Bad Luck
In Chinese, saying ‘giving a clock’ (送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong/) sounds exactly like the Chinese words for ‘attending a funeral ritual’ (送终 sòng zhōng) and thus it is bad luck to gift clocks or watches.
On top of that, clocks and watches also symbolize the running out of time. This is especially true for seniors. Giving a clock or watch as a gift is the biggest no-no in Chinese culture.
6. Pears — Parting
Giving fruit is a good thing, but pears are taboo. This is because the Chinese word for ‘pears’ (梨 lí /lee/) sounds the same as the word for leaving or ‘parting’ (离 lí).
7. Cut Flowers — Presents for Funerals
Cut flowers are generally presents for funerals, so do not give them on Chinese New Year! This is especially so for Yellow Chrysanthemums and any white flowers, which represent death. White is an unlucky (funeral) color in Chinese culture, so white flowers should be avoided.
8. Umbrellas — Break Up
Umbrellas are a bad idea to give as gifts, because the Chinese word for ‘umbrella’ (伞 sǎn /san/) sound like the word for ‘breaking up’ (散 sàn). Giving somebody an umbrella may insinuate that you feel your relationship with them has fallen apart.
9. Black or White Objects — Often Used in Funerals
Black and White are important colors in funerals, so avoid presents that are largely black or largely white, or wrapping paper or envelopes in these colors. Red, however, is believed to be a festive and fortunate color, so red is always a great option for envelopes, or gifts.
10. Mirrors — Attract Ghosts
Mirrors are a bad idea for gifts throughout much of Asia, as they are believed to attract malicious ghosts. On top of that, they are easily broken and breaking things is a bad omen.