Red Envelopes in Chinese Culture

Hey Everyone! Happy Fall! Can’t believe how fast time flies! I thought it’d be cool sharing various tidbits about Chinese culture as the holidays are coming up =) Starting with red envelopes!

Or otherwise known as “hong bao” (紅包).

It’s actually more well-known now and there’s an emoji for it in most social media platforms!

So what’s the significance of red envelopes in Chinese culture? And WHY are they important?

Let’s jump right into it!

**Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links at NO cost to you. Please see the disclaimer page for more info.**

What exactly is a Hong Bao?

I’m sure back in the olden days, it was strictly a simple, long, narrow, red envelope. Filled with some cash. But now there’s fancy looking ones with gold colored embellishments.

Or the cute looking ones like these Hello Kitty envelopes!

The more traditional ones have Chinese characters and or phrases for good luck. Usually centered around the phrases and blessings you say for your close friends and family.

For Chinese New Year.

But red envelopes aren’t always just given around new years. Birthdays, wishing speedy recovery and/or good luck are some other reasons to give red envelopes.

Including weddings. Must help the new bride and groom with their expenses after all XD

Why give them stuff they may not even use? Money is usually better in Chinese culture.

However, it’s important to note that hong baos are always red. And never any other color.

It wouldn’t make sense to call a red envelope if it wasn’t red though.

But why red?

Red Color Symbolizes Luck and Good Fortune

The red color symbolizes luck and good fortune. If you’re an avid cdrama watcher (like me), you may notice that weddings had red decorations, red clothing, etc.

Lots of RED. Story of Minglan, Rebel Princess, Sword and the Brocade, etc.

I can name so many historical cdramas that showcase the traditional decorations.

And this is the reason why.

Oh but modern day weddings may still iterate on this fact too. (My cousin who got married recently wanted to celebrate with Western AND Eastern styles so I got to see her wearing a red qi pao).

It was really neat!

How much money to give?

So how much do people actually give? When it comes to passing out these lucky envelopes?

It depends.

Giving money to children on Chinese New Year depends on the age and the giver’s relationship to the child.

Why so complicated?

Haha. It’s because giving too much or too little will look bad. Chinese people care a lot about what they look like to others.

Anyways, back to the amounts.

For younger children, give enough to purchase a small gift. And for older children/teenagers, give a little more.

I would say about $10 for a small child and maybe $30 for an older child.

But stay away from amounts that contain four. So no $40.

As the number four is pronounced like the word death. And associated with bad luck.

If you go to weddings, you should give an amount that would help cover the guests’ expense at the wedding.

Or an amount that would be equivalent to a nice wedding gift.

When my cousin was getting married, the red envelope I gave was around $300 (because it was on behalf of my whole family blessing her wedding).

And because she was my cousin (the closer you are to the person you are gifting, the more you give).

Also note that since you are gifting cash bills inside the red envelope, the bills should be new and crisp.

Meaning a trip to an actual bank location.

There you have it! I hope you learned a little more about hong baos!

I have several relatives whose birthdays are in November, so I may end up passing out quite a few of them. T_T

What were your experiences with hong baos? Do you know any friends who had to give red envelopes?

Leave a comment below!

Notify of
1 Comment
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Shiwano she
1 year ago

Ours are brown or white. But brown is more respected and sought after.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x