Insight & Analysis

The Dragon Boat Festival and China’s Gifting Culture


Dragon Boat Festival and China’s Gifting Culture

The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional holiday on the Chinese calendar, and like many Chinese festivals, the giving of gifts is a key part of the celebrations. Tapping into China’s gifting culture can help foster business relationships, and also provide a great marketing opportunity for brands. Here’s how you can make the most of this festival, and China’s gifting culture.

Origins and customs

While not held on the same day each year, the Dragon Boat Festival is usually set close to the summer solstice. In 2017, it will occur on May 30.

It’s largely held that the festival commemorates the death of popular and respected poet and minister Qu Yuan, who drowned in the Miluo River in the 3rd century BC. The story goes that locals raced out in their boats to save him or to retrieve his body, and when they couldn’t find him, dropped rice dumplings in the water to attract the fish so that his body would not be eaten.

The festival comes with a number of customs and superstitions. While dragon boat racing is still popular as a sport, there are many folk customs that also take place, and these differ depending on region.

For instance, in parts of northern China, drinking wine on waking is done to cast out evil spirits, and young children wear a bracelet of coloured threads to represent chaining of the flood dragon. In the southern provinces, customs include beating gongs to drive out disease, and dropping coins into wine to bring good fortune to pregnant women in the household.

One of the main activities during the festival is that of eating and gifting Zhongzi – rice dumplings with fillings that are wrapped in bamboo leaves. These are also enjoyed in different ways depending on region – with dates in the north, and more savoury flavours in the south with fillings of meat, bean paste or eggs.

The gifting culture in China

Gift giving is a traditional feature of many Chinese festivals. Along with giving Zhongzi as gifts, the Dragon Boat festival may involve giving gifts to teachers or older relatives.

Gift giving can be used as a business strategy in China. While bringing a gift to a business meeting might be unthought of in Australia, in China it can demonstrate goodwill and respect, and show that you wish to establish a good business relationship, whether it’s festival time or not.

While gifting has a long tradition, it has shifted away from the giving of traditional food and more towards quality or luxury foreign goods and e-vouchers or coupons. Examples of appropriate business gifts may include wine, luxury foods, electronic products, branded wallets or bags, and items related to your country or region (e.g. quality ‘Australiana’).

It’s important to avoid cash though, as this could be seen as a bribe, even if not intended that way!

Marketing tips for brands

Gift giving culture can also be used to enhance your marketing in China. The Dragon Boat Festival is a hive of activity, involving sports, teams and traditions. You could make the most of this atmosphere by running competitions with prizes, offering your own version of Zhongzi, or even sponsoring a dragon boat team.

It’s important to be mindful of appropriateness, so take some time to research which types of gifts best suit the occasion.

If you need a little help with all this, get in touch with our bilingual China marketing team for some more in-depth expert tips!

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