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D u b a i D u t y Fre e | C h i n e s e N ew Ye a r

RULING T H E R O O ST

The Chinese New Year is here and the ancient celebration is a time for giving. But the art of Chinese gifting can be fraught with cultural dangers. Here’s how to get it right Words: Sean Williams

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his year, the Chinese New Year falls on January 28, and welcomes the end of the Year Of The Monkey, and beginning of the Year Of The Rooster. Each zodiac animal brings with it traditionally lucky flowers, and the rooster’s fortunate flora are gladioli and the aptly-named cockscombs. But whether you should give flowers at Chinese New Year is another matter. Chinese gifting is steeped in ancient, Confucian tradition and forms a pillar of the country’s attitudes towards respect for elders, harmony and the importance of friends and family. Nobody knows for sure when the tradition of the Chinese New Year began. Most people believe it emerged during the Shang Dynasty period, between 1766BC and 1122BC. Some 40 DUBAI VOYAGER

think it started even earlier than that, under the tenure of the legendary Emperor Yao and Shun, around 4,300 years ago. Whatever the actual date, the New Year – known as ‘Spring’ in China – is a cornerstone of Chinese culture and is now celebrated worldwide, with fireworks, parades and lantern lighting. According to legend the event began with the fight against a mythical creature called Nian, a sea-dwelling, lionheaded ox (hence the modern lion dances associated with the festival). But today, gifting is as much a tradition at New Year as anything else. For those without the heritage, navigating it can often be something of a cultural minefield. Chinese people keep a close eye on how many gifts they give or receive: a facet of

li shang wang lai, or ‘courtesy demands reciprocity’. This mantra is engendered in almost every aspect of Chinese life, including gifts. Should you shower a friend, family member or colleague with too many gifts, they will likely consider it bribery. So make sure to keep tabs on your gifting or you may well be eyed with a fair dose of suspicion. Similarly giving large amounts of cash – as well as expensive electronic equipment, cars or even company shares – can also give you something of a bad reputation. Timing is important, too. You must return a gift, such as dinner with friends or a gift for a child, in a reasonable amount of time. And make sure you don’t under- or outdo someone: the value of a reciprocal gift must be kept similar to avoid accusations of


Dubai Voyager | January 2017