A Chinese auction, which is not Chinese in origin, is a silent auction at which bidders buy tickets and submit them in hopes of winning a prize. There are four different types of Chinese auctions, one of which is not an auction at all. The primary difference between the four types is how the winner is chosen. Chinese auction events are most commonly done as fundraisers, because they can yield a large amount of money for charity. Running the auction itself is inexpensive, with only prizes, tickets and perhaps an auctioneer needed for the event.
All Chinese auctions, regardless of format, are silent auctions. A silent auction usually means there is no auctioneer, and people silently bid on items using tickets. Two of the Chinese auction formats do not require an auctioneer, but the other two do. Regardless, the bidders in all formats are silent. Tickets are a large part of these auctions, so running an effective event means there must be a lot of tickets ready to sell.
One format for a Chinese auction involves placing several different items on display, each with its own bowl or bucket nearby. Bidders buy tickets, look at each of the items and then deposit their tickets in the bucket of the item on which they want to bid. A bidder can place as many tickets as he wants in a particular item's bucket to increase his chances of winning that item. At the end of the auction, someone picks a ticket from the bucket, and the owner of that ticket is the winner of that item. People who did not win do not get their tickets back, a trait shared by all the Chinese auction styles.
The second format uses an auctioneer and, like a traditional auction, one item is displayed at a time. As the auctioneer talks about the item, one or more people will collect tickets from the bidders. After all the tickets are collected, the auctioneer will pick one ticket to determine the winner.
The third Chinese auction style is similar to the second. An auctioneer is used and either one or all the items will be on display. In this format, everyone deposits his tickets at the beginning of the event. The first ticket drawn wins the first item, the second wins the second item, and so on.
In the fourth Chinese auction format, which is not an auction at all, everyone brings a wrapped present of approximately the same value. Everyone then submits a ticket and the first person whose ticket is chosen gets first choice of a present. The second person whose ticket is picked then chooses a present or prize. This continues until everyone has chosen one of the wrapped prizes.