Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties
This article explores gift-giving practices using data collected through interviews in Hong Kong. I argue that Chinese culture promotes the familial over the private self and that the attainment of family-oriented goals represents an important measure of self-realization and self-fulfillment. Although each individual also has a private or inner self (chi), it is also subject to the collective will. This idea is in keeping with Confucian ideals that encourage the individual to focus on developing internal moral constraints and conquering selfishness in the pursuit of social propriety. Furthermore, the boundaries of the familial self are permeable and may include others, such as important romantic partners and, occasionally, close friends who become "like family." In family and like-family contexts, reciprocity is discouraged, and there is no need to build relationships through gift giving. Our research also suggests, however, that there are various gradations of intimacy in gift relationships against the backdrop of important cultural rules such as reciprocity, sentiment, and face. Using the categories provided by our participants, the gift continuum includes "close friends," "good friends," "just friends"/"hi-bye friends," and the "romantic other." Copyright 2001 by the University of Chicago.
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