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Here's A List Of Things You Should Never Give A Chinese Guest

Clocks? Nope. Umbrella? Nope. Pears? YOU MONSTER.

Posted on January 10, 2017, at 12:12 p.m. ET

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbott met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Sunday and it seemed fine BUT WAIT. The Texans gave her a ~totally inapprops~ gift — a “clock bearing the Texas State Seal.”

Today I met with the President of Taiwan to discuss expanding trade and economic opportunities. #txlege

The meeting, which took place despite the Chinese consulate's request to cancel it and uphold the "One China" policy, happened in Houston during Tsai's layover to Central America for diplomatic visits.

Taiwan's Ministry of Culture jokingly named the incident #Clockgate — in the Chinese-speaking world, timepiece gifts are considered ominous and "to gift someone a clock" sounds like "to prepare funeral rites" because both "end" and "clock" are pronounced "zhōng."

#WordoftheDay #Clockgate: a timepiece gift, which is considered an ominous present in #Taiwan as it is homonymic for "prepare funeral rites"

The nuance of the different taboos that mainland China and Taiwan have got people really confused.

So does Taiwan culture have this taboo against giving clocks/watches as gifts or not?

Even people who know a lot about Asia like Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser on Asia for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, expressed sincere puzzlement over whether the taboo really applies across the strait.

But it is that serious — when Taipei's mayor received a watch from a British minister in 2015, he actually joked that he would “sell it to a scrap dealer.”


Taiwan and mainland China may disagree on many political issues, but their gift-giving customs are still very similar. Here are three other major "no-no" objects besides any kinds of timepieces:

Never, ever, ever, ever gift others with umbrellas — or in Chinese "san," which sounds the same as "separation" or "departure."

And get the hell rid of any pears or plums in the fruit baskets — the two are both pronounced "li," which can also mean "separation."

Mirrors are too easy to break, so cross them off the list too.

One resolution if you really really wanna give someone from the Chinese-speaking world any of the above as a gift — ask the receiver to pay you back a tiny bit amount of money, say 25 cents, to break the bad luck. But the rule seems to only work in mainland. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If you follow these rules, you can avoid the kind of scandal that was stirred up following Tsing's Texas trip.

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"... The Texas governor's staff must know that in Chinese culture 'giving a clock' is an ominous curse. But it might just be that they foresaw that Tsai Ing-wen is running out of political time," wrote Chiu Yi, a former legislator of Taiwan's opposition party Kuomingtang on Facebook.

It was a scandal that saw people calling out both the Americans involved in the meeting...

...and the Taiwanese side.

“The [Texas] governor and the Chinese Communists are buddies,” many others left comments on the popular Taiwanese online forum PTT.

So if you were even THINKING about giving a Chinese-speaker a clock, you now know what to do.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.