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
Vietnamese name
Vietnameselì xì
phong bao mừng tuổi
Thai name
RTGSang pow
Korean name
Japanese name
Indonesian name
Filipino name
Tagalogᜀᜅ᜔ ᜉᜏ᜔
ang pao
Khmer name
ang pav

In Chinese and other East Asian and Southeast Asian societies, a red envelope or a red packet is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions such as weddings, graduation or the birth of a baby.

Outside of China, similar customs have been adopted across parts of Southeast Asia and many other countries with a sizable ethnic Chinese population.


Red envelopes are gifts presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or holidays such as Chinese New Year. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is a symbol to ward off evil spirits. 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 lì shì), and in the south of China, dou li shi (Chinese: 逗利是; pinyin: dòu lì shì; Cantonese Yale: dau6 lai6 si6). Red envelopes are usually given out to the single generation despite the age and income.

The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs; odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. The exception being the number 9 as it pronunciation of nine is homophonous to the word long and is the largest digit.[1] Still in some regions of China and in its diaspora community, odd numbers are favored for weddings because they are difficult to divide. There is also a widespread tradition 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(Chinese: ) is homophonous to the word death (Chinese: ).

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

During the Chinese New Year, in Southern China, red envelopes are typically given by the married to the unmarried, most of whom are children. In northern and southern China, red envelopes are typically given by the elders to the younger under 25 (30 in most of the three northeastern provinces), regardless of marital status. The amount of money is usually notes to avoid heavy coins and to make it difficult to judge the amount inside before opening. It is traditional to put brand new notes inside red envelopes and also to avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy.

It is also given during the Chinese New Year in workplace from a person of authority (supervisors or owner of the business) out of his own fund to employees as a token of good fortune for the upcoming year.

In acting, it is also conventional 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.

Digital red envelopes[edit]

During the Lunar New Year holiday in 2014, the mobile instant messaging service WeChat introduced the ability to distribute virtual red envelopes of money to contacts and groups via its mobile payment platform. The feature became considerably popular, owing to its contemporary interpretation of the traditional practice, and a promotional giveaway held during the CCTV New Year's Gala, China's most-watched television special, where viewers could win red envelopes as prizes. Adoption of WeChat Pay saw a major increase following the launch, and two years later, over 32 billion virtual envelopes were sent over the Chinese New Year holiday in 2016 (itself a tenfold increase over 2015). The popularity spawned a "red envelope war" between WeChat owner Tencent and its historic rival, Alibaba Group, which added a similar function to its competing messaging service and has held similar giveaway promotions, and imitations of the feature from other vendors.[2][3][4] Analysts estimated that over 100 billion digital red envelopes would be sent over the New Year holiday in 2017.[5][6]


In China, during the Qin Dynasty, the elderly would thread coins with a red string.

There was a kind of little demon called "sui''(Chinese:祟) in ancient times. Whenever it is on New Year's Eve, it will appear quietly, touching the head of a sleeping child. The child who was being touched will be scared and cry, and also will have a headache. Therefore, in order to prevent against the sui "祟", people in the past did not dare to sleep on New Year's Eve, and all the lights were called "Shou Sui". (Chinese: 守祟)

One tale of the folklore is about an elderly couple with a precious son. On the night of New Year's Eve, since they were afraid that sui (chinese:"祟") would come, they took out eight pieces of copper coins to play with their son in order to keep him awake. Their son was very sleepy, however, so they let him go to sleep after placing a red paper bag containing copper coins under the child's pillow. The two older children were also stayed with him for the whole night. Suddenly, the doors and windows were blown open by a strange wind, and even the candlelight was extinguished. It turned out to be sui (chinese: "祟"). When sui "祟" was going to reach out and touch the child's head, the pillow suddenly brighter with the golden light, and the "祟" was scared away, so the exorcism effect of "red paper wrapped copper money" spread in the past China.[7]

The money was referred to as "money warding off evil spirits" (Chinese: 壓祟錢; pinyin: yāsuì qián) and was believed to protect the person of younger generation from sickness and death. The yasui qian was replaced by red envelopes when printing presses became more common and is now found written using the homophone for sui (Chinese: 歲) that means "old age" instead of "evil spirits" thus, "money warding off old age" (Chinese: 壓歲錢; pinyin: yāsuì qián). Red envelopes continue to be referred to by such names today. Another reason for changing to use red envelope is because the design of coins. There is no more hole on the coin nowadays so they can not thread coins with the string. Therefore, people started using folding money to replace coin in red envelope.[8]

Some say that the history of the Ang Pow dates back as far as the Song Dynasty (960–1279) in China. The story goes that a huge demon was terrorising a village and there was nobody in the village who was able to defeat the demon; many warriors and statesmen had tried with no luck. A young orphan stepped in, armed with a magical sword that was inherited from ancestors and battled the demon, eventually killing it. Peace was finally restored to the village, and the elders all presented the brave young man with a red envelope filled with money to repay the young orphan for his courage and for ridding the demon from the village.[9]

At SuZhou, the children kept the red envelope in their bedroom after they received. They believed that putting the red envelope under their bed can protect the children. The action how they holding down the red envelope refer to the chinese meaning "壓". Those ya sui qian would not be used until the end of Chinese New Year. They also received fruit or cake during the new year.[10]

Other customs[edit]

Other similar traditions also exist in other countries in Asia. In Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia, the Chinese diaspora and immigrants have introduced the culture of red envelopes.

In Cambodia, red envelopes are called Ang Pav or Tae Ea(give Ang Pav). Ang Pav is delivered with best wishes from elder to younger generations. The money amount in Ang Pav makes young children happy and is a most important gift which traditionally reflects the best wishes as a symbol of good luck for the elders. Ang Pav can be presented in the day of Chinese New Year or "Saen Chen", when relatives gather together. 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 in New Year time. Gift in Ang Pav can be either money or a cheque, and more or less according to the charity of the donors. The tradition of the delivery of Ang Pav traditionally descended from one generation to another a long time ago. Ang Pav will not be given to some one in family who has got a career, but this person has to, in return, deliver it to their parents and/or their younger children or siblings. At weddings, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as help the newly married couple.

In Vietnam, red envelopes are considered to be lucky money and are typically given to children. They are generally given by the elders and adults, where a greeting or offering health and longevity is exchanged by the younger generation. Common greetings include "Sống lâu trăm tuổi", "An khang thịnh vượng" (安康興旺), "Vạn sự như ý" (萬事如意) and Sức khỏe dồi dào, which all relate back to the idea of wishing health and prosperity as age besets everyone in Vietnam on the Lunar New Year. The typical name for lucky money is lì xì or, less commonly, mừng tuổi.

In South Korea and Japan, a monetary gift is given to children by their relatives during the New Year period. In both countries, however, white envelopes are used instead of red, with the name of the receiver written on the back. A similar practice, Shūgi-bukuro, is observed for Japanese weddings, but the envelope is folded rather than sealed, and decorated with an elaborate bow.

In the Philippines, Chinese Filipinos exchange red envelopes (termed ang pao) during the Lunar New Year, which is an easily recognisable symbol. The red envelope has gained wider acceptance among non-Chinese Filipinos, who have appropriated the custom for other occasions such as birthdays, and in giving monetary aguinaldo during Christmas.

Red packets as a form of bribery in China's film industry were revealed in 2014's Sony hack.[11]

Green envelope[edit]

Malay Muslims in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore have adopted the Chinese custom of handing out monetary gifts in envelopes as part of their Eid al-Fitr (Malay: Hari Raya Aidilfitri) celebrations, but instead of red packets, green envelopes are used. Customarily a family will have (usually small) amounts of money in green envelopes ready for visitors, and may send them to friends and family unable to visit. Green is used for its traditional association with Islam, and 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 much 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 in the strict sense, i.e. no attempt is made to give more to guests "in need", nor is it as a religious obligation as Islamic charity is often viewed.

Purple envelope[edit]

The tradition of ang pao has also been adopted by the 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).[12] Yellow coloured envelopes for Deepavali have also been available at times in the past.[13][self-published source]

See also[edit]


  • Chengan Sun, "Les enveloppes rouges : évolution et permanence des thèmes d'une image populaire chinoise" [Red envelopes : evolution and permanence of the themes of a chinese popular image], PhD, Paris, 2011.
  • Chengan Sun, Les enveloppes rouges (Le Moulin de l'Etoile, 2011) ISBN 978-2-915428-37-7.
  • Helen Wang, "Cultural Revolution Style Red Packets", Chinese Money Matters, 15 May 2018.


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  2. ^ "How Social Cash Made WeChat The App For Everything". Fast Company. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  3. ^ Young, Doug. "Red envelope wars in China, Xiaomi eyes US". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  4. ^ Chun, Flora; Lee, Chun. "Silicon Valley Startup Reinvents an Ancient Tradition: The Red Envelope". Epoch Times. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  5. ^ "Why this Chinese New Year will be a digital money fest". BBC News. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Tencent, Alibaba Send Lunar New Year Revelers Money-Hunting - Caixin Global". Retrieved 2018-08-29.
  7. ^ 超宏, 陳 (2014). 《紅包》. 香港: 商務書局。.
  8. ^ Kin Wai Michael, Siu (Winter 2001). "Red pocket: A traditional object in the modern world". Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 35, Iss. 3: 103–125.
  9. ^ Zhang, Qian; Li, Jun; Wang, Shanyong; Zhou, Yu (2019). "Understanding the User's Economical and Psychological Intentions to Snatch Electronic Red Envelopes: An Experimental Study". IEEE Access. 7: 5749–5759. doi:10.1109/ACCESS.2018.2888576. ISSN 2169-3536.
  10. ^ Qin, Jia (n.d.). "Qin Jia Lok". Archived from the original on n.d. Retrieved 2019-03-06. Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  11. ^ Fox-Brewster, Thomas. "Inside Sony's Mysterious 'Red Pockets': Hackers Blow Open China Bribery Probe". Forbes. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  12. ^
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