The Gifted Blog

October 1, 2012

Gift Giving and Wrapping in Shanghai

Today's post is by Lucy Young, founder of the fabulous Gifted Blog sponsor Paper Tiger Shanghai. Her gift wrap is a pleasure to work with. Take it away, Lucy!

As Charissa is cuddling new baby N, I’m coming to you from Shanghai for this guest post and so excited to have been asked to contribute a little something from my part of the world.

Gift giving is widely practiced in China and is often done without the need for any special occasion. Fruits, candies and specialty foods are often given as gifts when visiting friends or family and usually presented sans any special gift wrapping, or given as-is, in a pre-packaged/wrapped form created by the manufacturer.

Unlike our neighbor Japan, wrapping is not customary when giving gifts here, and gift bags are often used in lieu of wrapping. It’s also not uncommon to see gifts not wrapped at all and presented in its original retail bag with the assumption that the receiver will be impressed with where it was purchased and its perceived value. Sometimes a branded box rules all.

The packages above are high-end moon cake boxes I came across at a local supermarket here. They’re beautiful, but I personally think a nice gift paper around it would make the gift even more special for the recipient when they receive it to give them a little surprise upon opening it.

The irony is that China produces most of the world’s wrapping paper, ribbons, boxes and stationery. Unfortunately though, almost none of it is for domestic consumption and instead is exported to the rest of the world. What we’re left locally is gift paper that is low in quality with terrible designs. I was faced with this challenge myself when I moved to Shanghai in 2005 and made the bold move to start up Paper Tiger Shanghai, in order to fill this niche.

The aim was to design paper that was relevant to Chinese culture (no teddy bears or balloons here!) that was contemporary and fun using sustainable materials.

Over the years though, as I’ve gotten to know the city and become familiar with where to get things, I’ve come across some other materials that are good replacements for traditional gift paper. In Beijing, at the local post office, I made a pleasant discovery that the packing paper used for parcels and boxes had a reverse side to it that is perfect as gift paper.

One side is parcel paper with the flip side being a bamboo-like by-product, weaved and glued onto the reverse of the paper. It’s actually quite clever---it allows the paper to be waterproof and gives it a thickness to prevent tearing. The pattern and color of the weave makes for a really nice natural looking gift.

Commonly found in Chinese religious practices, ‘paper ghost money’ is often given as a burnt offering to venerate deceased ancestors on holidays and special occasions. These are usually made out of rice paper or coarse bamboo paper with a bit of gold or silver printed on it and then folded into paper gold ingots. I came across this merchant down my street selling ‘paper ghost money’, incense sticks, and paper sacks to hold all of the ‘paper ghost money’ in.

Once deconstructed, the sack is perfect to wrap a small box up. It gives the gift a bit of old China charm to it and even has a slight fragrant aroma to it. It may not be not entirely appropriate to give it to a Chinese person who can read Chinese characters as they may feel spooked by its intended use.

Lucy, thanks so much for sharing! It makes me want to go back to school so I can research a dissertation on gift wrapping around the globe. Readers, do you have any tidbits to share about gift giving in other countries? 

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  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing, Lucy. I wish our parcel paper was as cool looking.

    1. I know, what a cool discovery! I thought of your summer spent in Shanghai and wondered if you'd seen any of the things mentioned in this post.
      : )

  2. This makes me miss Shanghai! I was there this summer, and I'm sorry to say that I missed your shop! =) Shanghai is one of the best cities in the world in my opinion! Thanks for sharing Lucy.

  3. Love the wrapping, especially the red Chinese style at the bottom. Didn't realise China made so much gift wrapping paper without using it themselves! :) Thanks


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