In the age of government crackdowns in China on excess and corruption, the Financial Timesrecently published pointers on gift giving compiled tongue-in-cheek from websites that specialize in trading tips on how to win friends and influence powerful people.
Since president-elect Xi Jinping launched his campaign on the “tigers and flies” – corrupt government officials – red carpets, liquor, and cigarettes have gone away. The festive celebrations that usually mark the lunar new year were called off, including the roster of political banquets that stand as the highpoint of the work year. While the Financial Times points out that, “Rectitude such as that tends to have a fairly short shelf life in China,” there are ways for gift givers to pacify the powers that be and get their message across.
Cash gifts, if given, must be handled discreetly, the website Liwuguo.com (Kingdom of Gifts) insists. Your target must be approached at his home, preferably as he is just walking up his stairs, and it’s best not to state your request directly. “You’d better come up with something else – for example, you missed the birthday of his family member and this is a late birthday gift, or you know his relative just got married and this is a late wedding gift, etc,” the website recommends.
And if cash seems too tacky in today’s climates, suitable replacements have been recommended: gasoline gift cards, spa passes, and gym memberships.
Supplicants are also getting much more subtle and creative, as new favorite gifts include such novelties as porcelain and jade, American ginseng and sea cucumber, Shaanxi green tea, or Shangluo walnuts – tokens described as “hard to price but easy to value.”
Chinese artists, too, may reap the benefit from a “reformed” government: officials have been known to subtly offer clues about liking a particular painting to a would-be gift giver, who then goes to purchase it and realizes the price tag is several times the painting’s actual value.
The world will soon see if sea cucumber can supplant Moutai as China’s favorite present.