Chinese Language Blog

Red Envelopes 红包 (hóng bāo) Posted by on Feb 4, 2011 in Culture

The Red Envelope or 红包 (hóng bāo) is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions, especially during the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

During the Lunar New Year, red envelopes are typically given to the unmarried by the married; most of whom are children, youth and young adults. The amount of money is usually a single note to avoid heavy coins, which also makes it difficult to judge the amount inside before opening (kind of like western children shaking wrapped Christmas presents to guestimate what is inside).It is also traditional to put brand new notes inside red envelopes as a sign of a “new year”.

Proper red envelope etiquette (红包礼节):

The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs. It is also commonplace for the amount of money within the red envelope to have multiple digits of “8,” due to the Chinese superstition that “8” is lucky.  For instance, 88 and 888 kuai are common values given in red envelopes. Contrarily, odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals.

Here is a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, such as 40, 400 and 444 as the pronunciation of the word “four” or 四 () has a similar pronunciation of the word “death” or 死 (). As a result, anything with a number “4” is considered bad luck for many Chinese and is the reason why you often don’t see a fourth floor labeled in Chinese elevators.

At weddings, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as a goodwill to the newlyweds making it essentially a dowry. It is considered extremely rude to give a low amount of money on such an occasion, so most wedding red envelopes are flush with cash. Can you say, pay day?

One should avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy and should always be respectful and thankful to those giving you the gift. To request a red envelope one asks politely: “討紅包”. Upon receiving we always, always say those magical words in chinese: 谢谢你! (xiè xie ) or “Thank you”.

I hope everyone received a their red envelopes already!

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About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.

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