A clock is a fairly simple object to identify. Frequently seen in living rooms, kitchens, and the workplace, it’s a timekeeper that is often ignored until it needs to be reset or replaced. But did you know there is one exception? In China, gifts containing clocks are considered offensive because they may be seen as derogatory toward Chinese culture, including the fact that many Chinese are unaware of what time it actually is outside of China because their country doesn’t use a single central timezone.
Why Is A Clock An Offensive Gift In China?
But why are clocks considered offensive? To understand this, you have to go back over a century and a half. China was one of the first Asian countries to industrialize, but it ended up taking a little longer to establish operating railroads. The Japanese built their own domestic five-segment rail system between 1872 and 1874, which led to their participation in the first Sino-Japanese war from 1894 to 1895. Many historians believe that this war is the “beginning of modern China.” This time period also saw the development of the telegraph station and telephone service in China.
Chinese History And Gift Giving
The first Chinese wireless station was established in 1894. The executive director of the first wireless station in China, Zhang Mou-yin, was from Sichuan Province. According to an article published by National Geographic, “Zhang was appointed to his post in 1899 and was the first Chinese government official to hold a telegraph message for transmission.” While communications were revolutionizing the country, others outside China had already begun preparing for a war between China and Japan.
In 1897, Germany’s Siemens & Halske and Switzerland’s Sulzer Brothers, the two largest European companies at the time, started a joint venture called Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon, one of the first weapons manufacturers outside of Europe. The company developed an early example of a heavy-caliber anti-aircraft gun that used a metal barrel. The gun was delivered to China in 1902 and is still being manufactured today.
But this isn’t all about war… it’s also about clocks. During the Sino-Japanese War, Japan made short work of China and won by marching through the country via railroads and taking naval routes to approach inland targets. Much of the damage done to Chinese cities during the war was done by artillery and aircraft, both of which were powered by electricity.
Shortly after the war’s end in 1905, the Chinese government realized that it needed a way to communicate with its people and other governments. A radio station was established in Shanghai-China’s first radio station. The radio station provided China with a method of communicating with its people and beyond, but it was based on technology foreign to China. And, as a result of this Japanese influence, many Chinese were afraid of the new electronic communications system… including clocks in their homes.
Clocks As A Sign of Bad Luck
The idea that clocks brought bad luck to families during this time is still believed today… to an extent. However, there are those that only believe in clock superstitions when it comes to the digital clock – not the analog version. So, where does this digital clock fear come from? In 1990, a study about Chinese urban legends was conducted by Wilson Fok… and it is believed that both the study and the study results have been lost. However, it may have been based on a combination of the following three theories:
1) In a mansion where an old emperor once lived, there were four clocks. He believed these clocks would keep him aware of the correct time during his sleep, but after he died at age 81, he had no chance to prove his theory right or wrong.
2) There was a Chinese emperor who built a clock for his mistress. She fell asleep with it next to her, never woke up after she died, and many of her family members died mysteriously thereafter.
3) A young girl fell asleep with the clock beside her, and since then, Chinese people have been afraid of falling asleep with clocks beside them because they don’t want to die mysteriously.
What You Cannot Gift Chinese
It’s not just digital clocks that are viewed as bad luck in China; some believe that any timekeeping item brings misfortune to their home. Whether from Japan or elsewhere, the transmission of new technology has sparked fear in Chinese people-especially the older generations-causing many to avoid any technological device that they are unfamiliar with. For example, in 2006, there was a case of a young girl who traumatized her father after she received a cell phone. The father claimed that the moment his daughter received the phone, it broke down and she broke her foot. However, according to Dr. Paul Booth, “while most of us would consider this poor judgment on her part, to many Chinese people, it shows that you shouldn’t get anything new. This is where we tend to use the term “cultural anxiety” to explain this kind of superstition.
So how can you tell if your clock is considered an offensive gift in China? In most cases, it’s probably safe to assume that the recipient will know what the time is because they live in China… and there is probably a digital clock right in front of them right now. However, some people that live outside of China will still tell you that they don’t use digital clocks because they believe they are bad luck. In other words, it’s probably best not to give a digital clock as a gift to anybody-Chinese or otherwise-unless you understand the cultural significance of the item and what time it actually is for them.
In the event that you wish to get your Chinese friend a gift, it is important to first understand their culture before making a purchase. Despite your pure and good intentions, you might end up being offensive unintentionally. There are hundreds of gifts that Chinese people would gladly appreciate. It’s up to you as an individual to find out which one would sit well with your friend. However, clocks are a big NO!