Hongbao (红包 hóngbāo), or red envelopes, are a significant part of Chinese culture, used to give monetary gifts on various occasions. In this article, we’ll explore the different aspects of giving hongbao in China, including the etiquette, customs, and modern adaptations of this age-old tradition. In Hokkien it is usually called AngBao and in Cantonese LaiSee.
I. How much money is in a hongbao for a wedding?
The amount of money to include in a hongbao for a wedding depends on your relationship with the couple and the local customs. Typically, the amount should be enough to cover the cost of your meal at the wedding banquet and a little extra as a gift. Close friends and family may give more generous amounts, ranging from several hundred to several thousand yuan.
Just make sure to not give numbers containing a 4. On the other hand, 8 is a good number. So 800 RMB is in general a good number and appropriate for most weddings. 1000 or multiples can also be good, especially in larger cities and if you are close with the person who is getting married. It is also better to give even numbers of money than odd numbers.
II. How to know who gave the Hongbao?
To keep track of who gave each hongbao at a wedding, it’s customary for guests to write their names on the envelope. This helps the couple to know who to thank and enables them to record the amounts received for future reference.
III. How much to include for Chinese New Year?
During Chinese New Year, hongbao are given to children, unmarried young adults, and sometimes employees. The amount varies based on the giver’s financial situation and their relationship with the recipient. Smaller amounts like 20, 50, or 100 yuan are common for casual acquaintances, while closer family members may give larger sums. Again, it is often round numbers like 100 or 800 or 1000. Obviously, the amount also depends on the currency. While RMB and HKD are very similar, Malaysian ringgit is worth twice of that and Singapore Dollar even more. On the other hand, Singapore and Hong Kong are rather rich places.
IV. Hongbao in social media
With the rise of digital payment platforms, virtual hongbao have become increasingly popular, especially on social media platforms like WeChat. Users can send digital red envelopes containing money to their friends and family, adding a modern twist to the traditional practice. Some users chose to send these hongbao directly to individual people. Others send group Hongbaos in group chats. The first person or the first x people that click on that Hongbao will then get all or a part of that money.
V. How to give a Hongbao if you are poor?
If you’re in a difficult financial situation, it’s essential to give within your means. You can give a smaller amount of money in a hongbao and, if necessary, explain your situation to the recipient. Most people will appreciate the gesture and understand your circumstances. You might also cancel some large weddings of people that are not that close to you. But if it is family and friends: make sure to show up, even though you might only include a small amount like 80 RMB for New Year and 600 or 800 RMB for a wedding.
VI. Hongbao and raffles
Hongbao raffles have become a popular activity during gatherings and celebrations. Participants contribute a hongbao with a specified amount of money, and the envelopes are then drawn at random. The winner takes home all the hongbao, creating an exciting and engaging game. This is also good for companies or Chamber of Commerce activities.
VII. Hongbao in companies
Companies in China may give hongbao to their employees during special occasions or as performance incentives. The amounts can vary widely depending on the company’s financial situation and the employee’s role and performance. Some western companies might feel this is a weird way of doing business in China. It is very often also the managers themselves that pay for some Hongbao out of their own pocket. Obviously, it is not possible to then provide Hongbao for everybody in the company, but a manager could give one or several hongbao for for example 800 RMB each and have them in a raffle at a company New Year event.
VIII. Hongbao and corruption?
Unfortunately, hongbao have sometimes been used for bribery and corruption, with individuals giving envelopes containing large sums of money to officials or business partners to gain favors. However, the Chinese government has been cracking down on corruption, and the practice is becoming less common.
IX. Hongbao on Chinese holidays
Besides weddings and Chinese New Year, hongbao are also given during other Chinese holidays, such as the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Spring Festival. The amounts may vary depending on the occasion and the relationship between the giver and the recipient.
X. Hongbao in families and different Hongbaos
Within families, different types of hongbao may be given depending on the occasion and the recipient. For example, grandparents might give hongbao to their grandchildren for good luck, while parents may give them to their children for academic achievements.
Some traditional Chinese grandparents might also give larger amounts to their grandsons than to their granddaughters but this is becoming less and less prevalent.
XI. Hongbao and the elderly
Hongbao are often given to the elderly as a sign of respect and to wish them good health and longevity. The amount of money included depends on the relationship with the recipient and the giver’s financial situation. Close family members may offer larger sums, while smaller amounts are appropriate for acquaintances or more distant relatives. Again, make sure the amount doesn’t contain a 4.
XII. Hongbao and teachers
In some parts of China, but also in South-East Asia, it’s customary for students to give hongbao to their teachers during holidays or special occasions as a sign of gratitude and respect. However, this practice has become controversial due to concerns about bribery and favoritism in schools. Some institutions have even implemented policies prohibiting the exchange of hongbao between students and teachers.
On September 28, 2023, teachers day is celebrated in Taiwan and some teachers might receive Hongbao there.
XIII. Bringing Hongbao when visiting families
When visiting someone’s home, particularly during festive occasions, it’s polite to bring a hongbao as a gift. The amount included should be appropriate for the relationship and the occasion, with smaller sums for casual visits and larger amounts for more significant events.
XIV. Where to buy Hongbao envelopes
Hongbao envelopes can be purchased at stationery stores, supermarkets, and online retailers. They come in various designs, colors, and materials, with some featuring intricate patterns, calligraphy, and auspicious symbols to convey blessings and good luck. Sometimes, even convenience stores sell hongbao envelopes.
XV. When is the time to hand over a Hongbao at a wedding?
At a wedding, it’s customary to hand over the hongbao upon arrival at the reception or banquet. There is usually a designated area or a person responsible for collecting the hongbao. If you’re unsure when or where to give your hongbao, ask the wedding organizers or other guests for guidance. Make sure to write your name on the Hongbao when you hand it over. The organizer might also write it down or mark the Hongbao accordingly. Often, one or two senior family members will be in charge of this work.
XVI. Who collects Hongbaos at weddings?
At weddings, a close family member or friend of the couple is typically assigned to collect the hongbao. This person may be stationed at a designated table near the entrance, where guests can hand over their hongbao and sign the guestbook.
XVII. How to collect a Hongbao (hands)?
When giving a hongbao, use both hands to present the envelope to the recipient as a sign of respect. Similarly, when receiving a hongbao, accept it with both hands and express your gratitude with a polite gesture, such as a nod or a bow.
XVIII. How to collect a Hongbao (writing down how much from whom)?
To keep track of who gave each hongbao and the amount inside, it’s common to write the giver’s name and the amount on the envelope or a separate list. This helps the recipient to remember and acknowledge the gifts later on. The list also serves to have an overview who attended the wedding or large event. At some large weddings, there are several guests unknown to the newlyweds. I.e. business partners of the uncle of the bride or members of an association where the wedding takes place. Hence, it is especially important to keep track of all this.
In conclusion, giving hongbao is a cherished custom in Chinese culture, playing a significant role in various occasions and celebrations. Understanding the etiquette and practices surrounding hongbao will help you navigate these events with confidence and grace.