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Red envelope – Hongbao

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Red envelope

The red envelope is called Hongbao in Chinese. The red colour symbolizes good fortune and prosperity in Chinese tradition. Red envelopes are mostly exchanged between spring festival and lantern festival. This is the period of the Chinese New Year celebrations which run for a period of 15 days. Besides that, the Chinese give red envelopes during weddings, graduations, birthdays as well as celebrating newborn children.

History of the red envelope

The red envelope practice stemmed from the Qin Dynasty. The elderly carried coins threaded on red strings or ribbons. Most noteworthy, the coins supposedly warded off evil spirits and misfortunes from their communities. Additionally, the coins saved the younger generations from sickness, bad luck and death.

Following the invention of printing and paper money, this practice got replaced with the use of red envelopes instead of strings. Similarly, red envelopes replaced coins.



Red envelopes come in a variety of designs. All of them come in red colour, with some having elaborate gold decorations. Moreover, they are well adorned with beautiful messages of prosperity and good wishes. Some have lucky symbols printed on them. These include dragons, phoenixes, lions and fish among others.

Even more, Zodiac signs appear on the cards too, in relation to the year. If it is the year of the horse, red envelopes will have horses printed on them and so on.

Nowadays, cartoon characters such as mickey mouse, Pokémon and kitties may feature on red envelopes. Certainly, they make the envelopes more impressionable, especially to the younger generation.


Who to give Hongbao

In China, people who have started earning their own money can give Hongbao. It is a way to share an individual’s love and blessings.

In some instances, unmarried individuals do not have to give Hongbao.

Usually, Chinese people give Hongbao to parents, grandparents, children, friends, acquaintances and employees. For each category of people, there is a range of the amount of money you put in the red envelope. The amount is as follows;

Elders- 500 to 2000 CNY

Children- Minimum of 100 CNY

Younger generation still in school- 200 to 500 CNY

Employees- 100 to 1000 CNY

Acquaintances- 5 to 100 CNY

Close friends- 100 to 1000 CNY

In most Chinese organisations, married employees give red envelopes to unmarried employees. Thus, it is a sign of wishing the unmarried people luck in finding their life partners.

Giving Red Envelopes

Red envelopes (Hongbao) are given and received on the first day of the Chinese New Year. When giving red envelopes, there are some things you should always put at the back of your mind.

First of all, have your red envelopes ready. They are readily available in stores. Alternatively, you can design and make your own red envelopes. Have a variety of sizes and designs.

Additionally, give new and crispy notes. Avoid giving old, dirty and creased notes. New notes show that you gave the gift out of a willful and clean heart. Arrange your notes neatly and beautifully. Additionally, do not put coins in your red envelopes. Coins are heavy and do not fit well in envelopes.

Besides that, do not give 40 and 400 CNY bill. The number four is synonymous with death in China. For this reason, such currency notes seem to attract misfortunes and death.

Also, put your money in differently designed envelopes. This makes it easier for you to pick and select your gifts as soon as it is time to give your red envelopes. Put notes in even numbers such as 2, 6, 8 but not 4. Even numbers attract fortune. Most notably, 8 is the known lucky charm.

Receiving Red Envelope

To begin with, it is common practice to receive gifts with both hands in China. Likewise, when presented with a red envelope, receive it with both hands. Be thankful and receptive of the giver. Thank them genuinely with auspicious Chinese phrases. The phrases are dependent on the occasion.

Moreover, do not open your envelope in presence of people. Wait till you get to a private place and you can view the contents of your envelope.


WeChat and Alipay Red Envelope

Owing to globalization and advanced technological advancements, WeChat and Alipay developed applications to modernize the red envelope. Both WeChat and Alipay have downloadable applications that are easily linked to the accounts.

These applications make it possible to transfer red envelope gifts electronically. The monetary gifts are usually received inform of virtual credits, which one can use to make purchases. Similarly, receivers can withdraw the cash like it is with mobile money transfer systems.

Above all, the digital red envelope on WeChat can send gifts to your favourite celebrities.



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