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.”
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."
The nuance of the different taboos that mainland China and Taiwan have got people really confused.
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.
If you follow these rules, you can avoid the kind of scandal that was stirred up following Tsing's Texas trip.
It was a scandal that saw people calling out both the Americans involved in the meeting...
...and the Taiwanese side.
So if you were even THINKING about giving a Chinese-speaker a clock, you now know what to do.
Beimeng Fu is a BuzzFeed News World Reporter covering China and is based in New York.
Contact Beimeng Fu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kassy Cho is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Kassy Cho at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.