Happy New Year China: Please Don’t Gung Hey Fat Choy It!

Regular readers know we seldom write about Chinese etiquette/cultural mores, figuring the real key is treating people with respect and just doing business. For examples of this view, check out Chinese Cultural Awareness Simplified: Don’t Be An Asshole. And we also have not made this a forum where we highlight great cultural gaffes, figuring we will leave that to others.

But I got a great email from China super lawyer Steve Dickinson today on a cultural gaffe so common as to warrant a post.

Steve sent me a couple of New Year “Gung Hey Fat Choy” emails he had received from American companies doing business in Mainland China– not even in Guangdong. And with those emails, Steve pointed out the following:

Here is one of those odd cultural things. Western folks want to be culturally sensitive, so they send out a Lunar New Year message. But they really mess it up. “Gung Hey Fat Choy” is Hong Kong Chinese, not Putonghua [Mandarin]. So, for the vast majority of Chinese who understand the message, this message could be seen as an insult, not a positive message. It is a reminder of a former imperialist world where China was ruled from Hong Kong. In fact, to tell you the truth, many modern Chinese would not know what “Gong Hey Fat Choy” means. They would just treat it as a series of meaningless symbols, insulting in its own way. “Gung Hey Fat Choy” is Cantonese for “gong xi fa cai.” NO ONE in modern China says “Gung Hey Fat Choy.” The phrase is purely from the old era, which was destroyed by the new regime. So as I say, for the small group of people who even know what this term means, it is an insult, not a positive message.

Brought to you as a public service from the good folks at China Law Blog, who wish you all a Happy New Year.

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