Chinese Wedding Gifts

How to Choose the Appropriate Present

Chinese bride giving red pocket lucky money
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If you've been invited to a Chinese wedding, you may have some confusion about the customs and etiquette involved in choosing a gift. For most weddings, all you need to bring is a red envelope with enough money to cover your expenses at the wedding. Special circumstances may require a different gift, though. The tips below will help ensure you make the appropriate selection.

Red Envelopes: The Standard Gift

Picking out a gift for a Chinese wedding is usually pretty simple. That's because, in lieu of gifts, Chinese wedding guests typically give a red envelope called hóngbāo (紅包). If you go to a wedding, the money in the red envelope should have a value equivalent to a nice gift that would be given at a Western wedding. It should also be enough money to cover your expenses at the wedding (for example, your meal and drinks). If a wedding dinner costs the newlyweds $75 per guest, then the money in the red envelope you bring should be at least $75. However, you want to make sure to give your gift in the currency that the couple actually uses—for example, the Thai Bhat.

Selecting the right amount of money to give is not as simple as learning how much the wedding venue charges per plate, however. Customarily, the amount of money gifted is also relative to your relationship to the recipient. The closer your relationship to the bride and groom, the more money that is expected. Immediate family, such as parents and siblings, should give more money than casual friends. In addition, it is not uncommon for business partners to be invited to weddings, and business partners often put more money in the envelope to strengthen the business relationship.

In Chinese tradition, some numbers are considered luckier than others. If you'd like, you can give an amount with lucky figures such as eight or nine (avoid unlucky numbers such as four, though). An amount such as $88, for example, is thought to bring good fortune.

Other Gift Options

As Chinese weddings have become infused with Western traditions, traditional Western wedding gifts have become more acceptable. But unlike at Western weddings, couples will rarely have a registry or release a list of wanted gifts. That means unless you know exactly what the couple needs or wants, sticking to a red envelope might be your best bet. Be careful when selecting a gift, as there are certain gifts to avoid in the Chinese culture. While many would make odd wedding gifts in any culture, it can be helpful to at least be aware to avoid a faux pas. Off-limits gifts include: 

  • Clocks
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Towels
  • Umbrellas
  • Sharp objects (that means a new set of cutlery is out of the question)
  • Cut flowers
  • Gifts in sets of four (the Chinese word for "four" is similar to the word for "death")
  • Shoes
  • Green hats
  • Anything in white or black

If you choose to select your own gift rather than a red envelope, it may be helpful to coordinate with other guests to avoid duplicate gifts.