The red envelop (红包, hóngbāo in mandarin and lai see in Cantonese) is also called red packet or lucky money. It is the money wrapped with red paper and given to kids by the elder during the Chinese New Year. It is said that, in Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1912), lucky money was connected with a red string. In the Republic of China (1912-1949), the lucky money was a red envelop with one hundred copper coins inside, for the meaning of a life of 100 years. Nowadays, red envelop generally refers to the money wrapped with red paper, which is used as the cash gift at joyous occasions, also serves as bonus or bribery.
Why Chinese People Give Red Envelopes during Spring Festival?
In China, it is a tradition to give red envelops during the Chinese New Year. Red, a symbol of vitality, pleasure and good luck, is quite popular in China. Chinese people believe that once children have lucky money, they can bribe the ghosts, evil spirits or the Monster 'Nian' with the money received to prevent any harm and turn ill luck into good. Also, the red envelop means the blessing and good luck in a new year. The money inside the red envelop is just to make kids happy and it is the red paper which symbolizes good luck that counts. Besides, another kind of lucky money is given by the juniors to the elders for the meaning of longevity of the elders.
How Much Money Should you Put in a Red Packet?
Giving red envelopes is an important rite of adults. In general, the adults who begin to make money or have been married should give red envelope to the children below 18 years old in the extended family.
The amount of lucky money basically depends on relationship. Generally speaking, the amount of lucky money for the elders like grandparents shall be greater than those for the younger generation. Also, you may give more lucky money to the intimate and less, i.e. RMB 10 to 100 to neighborhood kids. At the same time, local customs and salary level shall be taken into consideration when you give red envelops. Remember the amount of lucky money you give this year as it shall be on the rise or same with the previous year rather than decline.
Following are the mount of money you can give to different persons for your reference:
• To your parents or grandparents: 500-2,000 RMB
• To your own children: 10 - 100 RMB
• To children of your close friends or your relatives: 50-200 RMB
• To your employees: 100-1,000 RMB
Chinese Red Envelope Etiquette
• Tips for Giving a Red Envelope
1. Choose the Fresh Rather than Wrinkled Money
The wrinkled money is unaesthetic and not appropriate for the red envelope of Chinese New Year. You can withdraw or exchange fresh money at a bank and the cash of consecutive numbers will be better. BTW, don’t put coins in the envelopes.
2. Amount of Money Contained
The amount of money contained shall not be too big, or it will make the other stressed to return.
The amount of money contained in the red envelop varies from place to place: people in North China prefer the integer while in South China, people prefer the lucky number with 6, 7 and 8, such as 66, 88, 68 and 86.
Besides, Chinese people prefer even numbers to odd numbers, so give RMB 20 or 200 rather than RMB 10 or 100.
Chinese people believe the number 4 is ominous as the word for 死（death）sounds similar to four in Chinese. Therefore, the red envelop with the amount of 40, 44 and 400 shall be avoided.
The amount of money contained in all red envelops for the juniors shall be same. For example, if the red envelop for your sister's kid is RMB 200, the one for your brother's kid shall also be RMB 200. That is to say, the amount of lucky money for kids shall not vary with age.
3. Choose the Right Red Envelop
First, the red envelope you use should be a new one instead of a broken one. Second, most of the red envelops are printed with lucky words, you should choose the right one to different persons. For kids, the red envelops with words like '健康快乐' (meaning healthy and happy) shall be chosen while for elders, the red envelops with lucky word like '寿' (meaning longevity) shall be chosen.
4. Greetings for Giving Red Envelops
Say some greetings when you give a red envelop. Otherwise, the one who receives the red envelop will be embarrassed.
5. Give a Red Envelop to a Kid When His or Her Parent Is Present
Since kids are ignorant, you shall give the red envelops when their parents are present. Otherwise, they may lose or hide away the lucky money, which is not a good thing for them.
• Tips for Receiving a Red Envelope
1. Use Both Hand to Receive and Express Thanks
When receive your red envelope, you should use both hands instead of just one hand. At the same time, you should express thanks and greet the giver with blessings like ‘Happy New Year’. You can click this link to learn some Chinese New Year greetings.
2. Do Not Open a Red Envelop Immediately
If you receive a red envelop from an elder, do not open it immediately to the elder's face, because it is impolite.
3. Do Not Compare the Amount of Lucky Money
The elders often give the amount of lucky money according to their financial situation and personal relationship. So do not compare the amount of money contained in the red envelops because it will hurt feelings and offend others.
4. Exchange of Red Envelops
As the saying goes, courtesy demands reciprocity. This is a rule to be observed while exchanging red envelops. For example, if a friend gives your kid a red envelop with RMB 200 inside, you should give a red envelop with the similar amount of money or more than RMB 200 to his kid. If you give his kid RMB 20, it’s very impolite.
Electronic Red Envelope
During the Chinese New Year, red envelop is one of the most popular traditional customs. Nowadays, the network-based electronic red envelope is more and more popular. The electronic red envelope is generally sent through the third-party network platforms, such as WeChat, Alipay and QQ. Once you set the amount and choose the recipients, the red envelope will be sent immediately. In China, it has been a new trend to greet the Spring Festival with electronic red envelopes.
During the 2015 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the WeChat 'Shake Your Booty' Red Envelop sparked an interactive carnival in the public. Since then, the electronic red envelope has become a retained item of many famous brands; every year, Alipay and QQ would come out with many fresh ideas, such as 'Shake Your Booty' and 'Collect Five Fu'. Among them, the group red packet of WeChat, where money is distributed in a group chat, is the most popular. Once you set the total amount and the number of red envelops, each envelope will be randomly assigned with an amount and snatched by each recipient. On New Year's Eve, snatching red envelops in WeChat groups has become a new popular recreation.
Auspicious numbers in red envelope send through WeChat with meanings:
1.68、16.8、168 - All the way to make a fortune
1.78、17.8、178- Let’s make a fortune together!
1.88、18.8、188 - Have been always making a fortune
0.66、6.6、6.66、66.6、66.66 – Very Smooth
0.88，8.8，8.88，88.8，88.88 - Make a fortune
0.99，9.9，9.99，99.9，99.99 - The friendship between you and your friends is everlasting.
3.69 – Career and Life go smoothly
13.14 - Love you, always and forever!!
5.20、520—— I Love You!
The Legend of Why Red Envelopes Are Given
Legend has it that, in ancient times, the ghost 'Sui' with black body and pale hands would come out to hurt children on the New Year's Eve. Once he touched the forehead of a sleeping kid with his pale hands, the kid would have a high fever and talk in sleep; after the fever was down, the originally smart kid would be clouded in mind and become stupid.
People worried that 'Sui' would hurt their children, so they kept their homes bright and stayed awake all the night to protect their children. The couple Guan had a baby at old age. To protect the hard-won kid, they forced him to play the eight copper coins wrapped with red paper; the kid opened and wrapped the copper coins with red paper again and again until he fell asleep. However, the couple dared not to sleep and they guarded the kid. By midnight, a fierce gale sprang up and 'Sui' came as usual. When he was to touch the forehead of the kid, a brilliant glare flashed out and 'Sui' was scared away. Later, the couple told everyone about the copper coins wrapped with red paper and every family followed the practice to scare away 'Sui'. Since then, no kid was hurt by the ghost.
The custom of giving red envelopes to scare away 'Sui' was handed down. Since old age and ghost are homophonous in Chinese, red envelope is also named lucky money given to ward off old age.