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Red envelope

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Red envelope
Assorted examples of contemporary red envelopes
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese紅包
Simplified Chinese红包
Literal meaning"red packet"
Alternative Chinese name
Chinese利是 or 利事
Literal meaning"good for business"
Burmese name
an paung
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetbao lì xì (lợi thị)
phong bì mừng tuổi
Thai name
RTGSang pow
Japanese name
Malay name
Filipino name
Tagalogᜀᜅ᜔ᜉᜏ᜔ / ᜀᜋ᜔ᜉᜏ᜔
angpao / ampaw
Khmer name

A red envelope, red packet, hongbao or ang pau (traditional Chinese: 紅包; simplified Chinese: 红包; pinyin: hóngbāo; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: âng-pau) is a gift of money given during holidays or for special occasions such as weddings, graduations, and birthdays.[1] It originated in China before spreading across parts of Southeast Asia and other countries with sizable ethnic Chinese populations.

In the mid-2010s, a digital equivalent to the practice emerged within messaging apps with mobile wallet systems localized for the Chinese New Year, particularity WeChat.


Red envelopes containing cash, known as hongbao in Mandarin and laisee in Cantonese, are gifts presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or holidays such as Chinese New Year; they are also gifted to guests as a gesture of hospitality. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and wards off evil spirits.[2] In Chinese, the red packet is also called "money warding off old age" (壓歲錢; yāsuì qián) for Chinese New Year.

The act of requesting red packets is normally called tao hongbao (Chinese: 討紅包; pinyin: tǎo hóngbāo) or yao lishi (Chinese: 要利是; pinyin: yào lìshì), and, in the south of China, dou lishi (Chinese: 逗利是; pinyin: dòu lìshì; Cantonese Yale: dauh laih sih). Red envelopes are usually given out to the younger generation who are normally in school or unmarried.[3]

The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, following Chinese beliefs; odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals.[3] An exception exists for the number nine, as the pronunciation of nine (Chinese: ; pinyin: jiǔ) is homophonous to the word long (; jiǔ), and is the largest single digit.[4] In some regions of China and among the Chinese diaspora, odd numbers are favored for weddings because they are difficult to divide. One widespread tradition is that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, such as in 40, 400, and 444, as the pronunciation of the word four (; ) is similar to the word death (; ). When giving money, new bills are favored over old bills. It is common to see long bank queues before Chinese New Year holding people waiting to acquire new bills.[5]

At wedding banquets, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as signify goodwill to the newlyweds. The amounts given are often recorded in ceremonial ledgers for the new couple to keep.

In southern China, red envelopes are typically given by the married to the unmarried during Chinese New Year, mostly to children. In northern and southern China, red envelopes are typically given by the elders to those under 25 (30 in most of the three northeastern provinces), regardless of marital status.[citation needed] The money is usually in the form of notes to make it difficult to judge the amount before opening. In Malaysia it is common to add a coin to the notes, particularly in hongbao given to children, signifying even more luck.

It is traditional to avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy. However, to receive an envelope, the youth kowtow to thank their elders.

During Chinese New Year supervisors or business owners) give envelopes to employees.

In Suzhou, children keep the red envelope in their bedroom after receiving it. They believe that putting the red envelope under their bed can protect the children. This action relates to the Chinese " ". Those yasui qian would not be used until the end of Chinese New Year. They also receive fruit or cake during the celebration.[6]

It is traditional to give an actor a red packet when he or she is to play a dead character, or pose for a picture for an obituary or a grave stone.

Red packets are also used to deliver payment for favorable service to lion dance performers, religious practitioners, teachers, and doctors.

Red packets as a form of bribery in China's film industry, were revealed in 2014's Sony hack.[7]

Virtual red envelopes[edit]

Virtual red envelopes are available on mobile payment platforms. During the Chinese New Year holiday in 2014, the messaging app WeChat introduced the ability to distribute virtual red envelopes of money to contacts and groups via its WeChat Pay platform. The launch included an on-air promotion during the CCTV New Year's Gala — China's most-watched television special — where viewers could win red envelopes as prizes.[8][9]

WeChat Pay adoption increased following the launch, and over 32 billion virtual envelopes were sent over the Chinese New Year holiday in 2016 (a tenfold increase over 2015). The feature's popularity spawned imitations from other vendors; a "red envelope war" emerged between WeChat owner Tencent and its historic rival, Alibaba Group, who added a similar function to its competing messaging service and held similar promotions.[8][9] Analysts estimated that over 100 billion digital red envelopes would be sent over the New Year holiday in 2017.[10][11] One study reported that this popularization of virtual red packets comes from their contagious feature—users who receive red packets feel obligated to follow.[12]


The history of the red packet dates to the Han dynasty. People created a type of coin to ward off evil spirits, "yasheng qian" (Chinese: 压胜钱; pinyin: yāshèng qián), which was inscribed with auspicious words, such as "May you live a long and successful life". It was believed to protect people from sickness and death.

In the Tang dynasty, the Chinese New Year was seen as the beginning of spring, and in addition to congratulations, elders gave money to children to ward off evil spirits.

After the Song and Yuan dynasties, the custom of giving money in the Spring Festival evolved into the custom of giving children lucky money. The elderly would thread coins with a red string.

The Ming and Qing dynasties featured two kinds of lucky money. One was made of red string and coins, sometimes placed at the foot of the bed in the shape of a dragon. The other was a colorful pouch filled with coins.

In Qing dynasty, the name "yāsuì qián" (压岁钱) emerged. The book Qīng Jiā Lù (清嘉录) recorded that "elders give children coins threaded together by a red string, the money is called yasui qian."[13]

From the Republic of China (1912–1949) era, it evolved into 100 coins wrapped in red paper, meaning "May you live a hundred years!". Due to the lack of holes in modern-day coins, red envelopes became more prevalent. Later, people adopted banknotes instead of coins.[14]

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the custom of the elders giving the younger generation money continued.

Other customs[edit]

Girls in Singapore selecting red envelopes for Chinese New Year

Other similar traditions also exist in other countries in Asia.

Ethnic Chinese[edit]

In Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia, the Chinese diaspora and immigrants introduced the practice of red envelopes.


In Cambodia, red envelopes are called ang pav or tae ea ("give ang pav"). Ang pav are delivered with best wishes to younger generations. Ang pav is an important gift as a symbol of good luck from the elders. Ang pav can be presented on the day of Chinese New Year or Saen Chen, when relatives gather. The gift is kept as a worship item in or under the pillowcase, or somewhere else, especially near the bed of young while they are sleeping. Ang pav can be either money or a cheque, and more or less according to the donors.

Ang pav are not given to someone in family who has a career, while such a person has to gift their parents and/or their younger children or siblings.

At weddings, the amount offered is scaled to cover the cost of the attendees as well as help the newlyweds.


Tết greetings shown in the Vietnamese alphabet, chữ Hán and chữ Nôm

Red envelopes are a traditional part of Vietnamese culture. They are considered to be lucky money and are typically given to children during Vietnamese New Year. They are generally given by elders and adults, where a greeting or offering health and longevity is exchanged. Common greetings include "Sống lâu trăm tuổi" (𤯩𥹰𤾓歲), "An khang thịnh vượng" (安康興旺), "Vạn sự như ý" (萬事如意) and "Sức khỏe dồi dào" (飭劸洡𤁠), wishing health and prosperity. The typical name for lucky money is lì xì (利市) or, less commonly, mừng tuổi (𢜠歲).[15]

South Korea[edit]

In South Korea, a monetary gift is given to children by their relatives during the New Year period. Bags known as bokjumeoni (복주머니) are used instead of red envelopes.


Monetary gifts called otoshidama (お年玉) are given to children during the New Year period.[16] White or decorated envelopes (お年玉袋, otoshidama-bukuro) are used instead of red, with the name of the receiver usually written on the front.[17] A similar practice, shūgi-bukuro (祝儀袋), is observed for Japanese weddings, but the envelope is folded rather than sealed, and decorated with an elaborate bow, called mizuhiki (水引).[18]


In the Philippines, Chinese Filipinos (known locally as "Filipino-Chinese") exchange red envelopes (termed ang pao) during the Lunar New Year or "Chinese New Year". Red envelopes have gained acceptance in the broader Philippine society. Filipinos with no Chinese heritage appropriated the custom for occasions such as birthdays and in giving monetary aguinaldo during Christmas and New Year. Due to the phonetics of most Philippine languages, red envelopes are nowadays more well-known as ampaw.

Green envelope[edit]

Malay Muslims in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore adopted the Chinese custom as part of their Eid al-Fitr (Malay: Hari Raya Aidilfitri) celebrations, Instead of red packets, other colored envelopes are used, most commonly green. Customarily a family gives (usually small) amounts of money in green envelopes, and may send them to friends and family unable to visit. Green is used for its traditional association with Islam. The adaptation of the red envelope is based on the Muslim custom of sadaqah, or voluntary charity. While present in the Qur'an, sadaqah is less formally established than the sometimes similar practice of zakat, and in many cultures this takes a form closer to gift-giving and generosity among friends than charity. I.e. no attempt is made to give more to guests "in need", nor is it a religious obligation. Among the Sundanese people, a boy who had been recently circumcised is given monetary gifts known as panyecep or uang sunatan.

Purple envelope[edit]

The tradition of ang pao was adopted by local Indian Hindu populations of Singapore and Malaysia for Deepavali. They are known as Deepavali ang pow (in Malaysia), purple ang pow or simply ang pow (in Singapore).[19] Yellow colored envelopes for Deepavali were give in the past.[20][self-published source]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Red Pockets". chinesenewyear.net. Archived from the original on 9 April 2020. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  2. ^ "The real value of "lucky" money". thestar.com. 26 January 2011. Archived from the original on 20 January 2023. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  3. ^ a b "Hongbao giving | Infopedia". eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Archived from the original on 13 February 2023. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  4. ^ "The History of the Red Envelopes and How to Use them In the Year of the Yin Earth Pig 2019". FengshuiWeb.co.uk. 19 June 2012. Archived from the original on 3 April 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  5. ^ "Long queues for new banknotes ahead of Chinese New Year". CNA. Archived from the original on 20 January 2023. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  6. ^ Qin, Jia (n.d.). "Qin Jia Lok". ctext.org. Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  7. ^ Fox-Brewster, Thomas. "Inside Sony's Mysterious 'Red Pockets': Hackers Blow Open China Bribery Probe". Forbes. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  8. ^ a b "How Social Cash Made WeChat The App For Everything". Fast Company. 2 January 2017. Archived from the original on 3 January 2017. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  9. ^ a b Young, Doug. "Red envelope wars in China, Xiaomi eyes US". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  10. ^ "Why this Chinese New Year will be a digital money fest". BBC News. 27 January 2017. Archived from the original on 28 January 2017. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Tencent, Alibaba Send Lunar New Year Revelers Money-Hunting". Caixin Global. 13 January 2017. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  12. ^ Gift Contagion in Online Groups: Evidence From WeChat Red Packets Archived 6 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Yuan et al., arXiv preprint, 2020.
  13. ^ Gu, Lu. "6". Qīng Jiā Lù (清嘉录). 长者貽小儿以朱绳缀百钱谓之压岁钱 zhǎng zhě yí xiǎo er yǐ zhū shéng zhuì bǎi qián wèi zhī yā suì qián
  14. ^ Kin Wai Michael, Siu (Winter 2001). "Red pocket: A traditional object in the modern world". Journal of Popular Culture. 35 (3): 103–125. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.2001.3503_103.x. ProQuest 195369993.
  15. ^ ""Li xi" – Lucky Money for Tet". www.vietnamonline.com. Archived from the original on 11 April 2021. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Elementary 2 – Lesson 9 What do people do on Coming-of-Age Day?" (PDF). IRODORI Japanese for Life in Japan. Japan Foundation. 17 December 2020. p. 28. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 February 2022. Retrieved 3 February 2022.
  17. ^ "Otoshidama" 【お年玉】名前の書き方・お金の入れ方・年代別相場や常識を確認 [Otoshidama – How to address, arrange the coins and notes, typical amount, and other common practices]. myNavi kosodate (in Japanese). Mynavi Corporation. 8 December 2021. Archived from the original on 27 December 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2022.
  18. ^ "Goshūgibukuro" ご祝儀袋に入れるお札の向きや包み方を動画で解説します [shūgibukuro – How to properly orientate banknotes, and how to wrap it]. myNavi wedding (in Japanese). Mynavi Corporation. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 3 February 2022.
  19. ^ Siek, Hwee Ling; Tien-Li Chen (2013). Green Ang Pow and Purple Ang Pow in Malaysian Daily Life Practice (PDF). 5th International Congress of International Association of Societies of Design Research — IASDR 2013. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 September 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  20. ^ "Uses of "ang pow" among different races in Singapore". ChineseNewYearLanterns.blogspot.com. 15 December 2013. Archived from the original on 30 July 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2019.


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