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Home History and Culture Red Envelope (红包)
Red Envelope (红包)
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

In Chinese society, a red envelope or red packet / red pocket (Known as Hong Bao in Mandarin, Ang Pao in Hokkien and Lai See in Cantonese, 红包) is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions.

There are no clear literary sources from which to trace the origin of the red envelope tradition. In China, during the Qing Dynasty, the elderly would thread coins with a red string. The money was called yāsuì qián (traditional Chinese: 壓歲錢 压岁钱), meaning "money warding off evil spirits", and was believed to protect the elderly from sickness and death. The yāsuì qián was replaced by red envelopes when printing presses became more common after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. Red envelopes are also referred to as yāsuì qián.



Red envelopes are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as Chinese weddings or on holidays such as the Chinese New Year. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs; for instance 88 and 168 are both lucky numbers, as odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. But there is a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, as the number itself has a similar tone to the Chinese character for "death", and it signifies bad luck for many Chinese. At weddings, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as a goodwill to the newly weds.

During Chinese New Year, mainly in South China, red envelopes (in the North, just money without any cover) are typically given to the unmarried by the married, only to those who are younger in age. Traditionally, the red envelope is not supposed to be opened until the Chinese New Year festivities are over; otherwise, bad luck would befall the recipient for the whole year.


Other customs

Similar customs also exist in other countries in Asia. In Vietnam, red envelopes are called lì xì, similar to the Cantonese pronunciation "lai see". In Thailand, they are known as ang pow (the pronunciation of the Chinese characters for "red envelope" in the Hokkien/Fukien dialect) or tae ea among the Chinese-Thai. In Myanmar (Burma), the Burmese Chinese refer to them as an-pao (Burmese: ), and South Korea's envelopes are called "sae bae ton".

In Japan, a monetary gift called otoshidama is given to children by their relatives during the New Year period. However, white envelopes are used instead, with the name of the receiver written on its obverse. A similar practice is observed for Japanese weddings, but the envelope is folded rather than sealed, and decorated with an elaborate bow.









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