Chinese Red Envelope Etiquette

The Chinese Red Envelope- Ang Bao

In China, the red envelope is also referred to as a red packet. It is also considered lucky money or Hongbao in Chinese. It is a system of monetary gifts that people go for on important festivals and occasions. It is in practice not only in China but also in various other Asian countries. This practice is mostly seen during the Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival.

The Chinese red envelope is a new year gift in an envelope with money in it. The elders of the family usually give the envelopes to the children on the occasion of the New Year. It is among the most widely practiced traditions of the Chinese that almost everyone observes during the New Year.


The Reason Behind The Red Colour

There are several reasons why the Chinese prefer the red color for the envelopes. These are:


Protection Against The Monster

As per the legend, there was once a monster in China called Sui. It appeared on every New Year, and the intent was to harm children. It is believed that whichever child, while sleeping, was touched by this monster suffered from fever and gradually became an idiot. However, if the parents of the children sincerely prayed to God, God would arrange for eight guards to practice the children. These guards each would be in the form of a coin.

Therefore, the parents would secure eight coins using a red string and place them under the child’s pillow. Gradually, it became a regular practice, and the people of China would do it every year. It was believed that because of this practice, the monster never showed up.

Since the Chinese New Year is pronounced in the same way as the monster Sui, the people named the colin as ‘Ya Sui Qian’, which translates to lucky money to ward off evil spirit. With time, people stopped using coins, and instead, paper notes were put inside the envelopes.


These days, money put inside a red wrap is considered a gift. It is given to both children as well as grown ups and also includes relatives and friends. Red happens to be the most popular and auspicious color in China, and people use it a lot to share happiness and blessings.


Who Are Given The Red Envelopes

Unmarried members as well as children, along with the young generation, are given the envelopes. It is a symbol of good luck and something which is restricted only among the young. Elders are not a part of this custom.

Once a person is grown up enough to start earning money, they must give the envelopes during the Spring Festival. As a person who is now capable of earning money, a Chinese individual is expected to give money, especially to younger people.


As per the Chinese tradition, people are expected to gift money to kids once they start earning. Those who get the money are usually those who are either own children or nephews or niece. Receivers may also include kids of relatives or friends. Along with the money, good wishes for happiness and well being are also extended.


Individuals who earn for the family are expected to gift money packed in a red envelope to their parents and grand parents. The objective is to show respect and gratefulness towards the elder members for their love and support.


The owner of a company or the boss distributes red envelopes to the employees before the New Year holidays. However, things are a bit different in South China. Employees are given a packet that says ‘Li Shi’, which means ‘a start back to work’. It concerns getting back to work after the Spring Festival.


If there is an acquaintance with any kid, the person is required to send the red packet.


How Much Should A Red Envelope Have?

There is no specific answer to this. After all, it all depends on the financial capability of an individual film. The amount also depends on whether the relationship is a close or a distant one. Given below is a reference:

Kids of relatives — Somewhere between $4 – $1000.

Children of other acquaintances — $4 – $12.

Parents / Grandparents — $100 – $1000.

Elderly relative — $100 – $200.

Employees — $50 – $500.

In many regions in China, people rely a lot on giving out lucky money. As a result, the sky high value of the red envelope becomes a topic for discussion. There are cities in Singapore where children get red packets having money worth 100 – 10,000 Yuan. Such practices lead to a financial burden on a mediocre family since the spending could pretty well go up to a large proportion of the total Chinese New Year expense. At the same time, it has been observed that such practices can spoil the habit of children. There have been many instances where children started believing that it is possible to reap without sowing.


Lucky Sum Of Money

Most Chinese prefer to get the lucky money in lucky sums. It makes a person wonder what specific amount would be considered auspicious then. In the northern part of China, even numbers and integral sums are considered lucky. Examples of these are 1000, 800, 500, 200, 500, and 100, whereas figures like 740, 400, and 250 are avoided. Similarly, in the southern part of China, people prefer to send envelopes with money having 999, 888, 666, or 88 since these are perceived as lucky sums. Such figures indicate a blessing for smooth progress in life and an increase in wealth.


How Are The Envelopes Handed Over

Crisp Bill

Most Chinese are happy when they are given fresh cash. Therefore, people arrange for new or crisp notes way before the New Year. Some put in a lot of change so that the envelope appears thick.

Correct Moment

Once someone is out on a new year visit for handing over the red envelopes, knowing the right moment is essential. after arriving at the place, the red envelope has to be handed over while greeting or shaking hands with the other person. In case the receiver is a child, the envelope can be given straight away. One should not wait much longer or hand it over at the time of going.

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