There is much to be learned about giving presents. Courtesy demands reciprocity. And mutual respect is a universally accepted rule in human relations and communications. It is not a coincidence that the words "courtesy" and "present" in Chinese are represented by the same character.
China has long been known as the land of ceremony and prosperity, and "respect" has been highly emphasized in the thousands of years' traditional essence of civilization. Propriety and righteousness arise from respect, and thus form the ethical code of Confucian. That was why Confucius stressed the importance of "poetry, books, courtesy and music".
Presents are always welcome. What common folks require most in giving presents is the so-called "face". The gift may be trifling but the feeling is profound. Choosing the appropriate present will enjoy due respect. Visiting a friend or relative with empty-hands, is in some way very embarrassing both to the guest and to the host, even though the sincerity is beyond doubt. The festiveness of the marriage ceremonies largely depends on the present giving. Take a look at the traditional scene of the men from the bridegroom's side escorting back the bride from her family: they play the joyous and riotous music tunes, carry "present cases", "present boxes" and "present wines" one after another, which are wrapped up in blissful red ribbons, and march proudly along the street. The marriage shall not be regarded as worthwhile and blessed if the newly-weds' families fail to show off their treasure and ostentation. A marriage ceremony without wedding presents is virtually unimaginable. The sedan quietly bringing the new bride to the bridegroom technically equals a catastrophe and it means that the 'faces' of both families are incurably lost. The "wedding presents" are some how prepared for spectators to look at. The 'birthday boards' are put up for the younger peoples' admiration. The key is to show off the family's pomp and ceremony. The bribe 'present' to officials is best to go in through the "back door". The box of threads and needles sent from the fiancée's family confirms the engagement. Wines help a lot in a formal apology, and drinking may acquaint the strangers and reconcile the conflict. The food box for excursion and picnic, the wife's present box for her family, the golden carved basket of a new bride, the incense box for sacrificial ceremony, the large box that contain fruit and the food box for a farmer working in the fields. They are all our face. They are all our life.
Collected from: Shanxi, Shaanxi, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Hubei, Hebei, Henan, Beijing and Tianjin.
Time span: Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty to the Modern Times, about 600 years