Red envelope as Chinese New Year gift poses a heavier burden
Red is an auspicious and festive color. Money is a one-size-fits-all gift. Therefore, in China and other Chinese-speaking communities, presenting cash tucked into a red envelope as a Chinese New Year gift has become an ingrained practice, which not only conveys goodwill, but also spares the giver the trouble of racking his/her brain for a gift idea. Even though there are many other occasions for giving red envelopes, including as year-end bonuses for employees, for weddings, birth of a baby, important birthdays and anniversaries, when it serves as a Chinese New Year gift, it is typically passed down from an adult (in some region, married) earning income to a child or a young, unmarried adult at least one generation younger, but never the other way around.
While there is no definitive amount to give in a red envelope, as a lot of factors, including the relationship between the giver and the receiver, income of the giver, come into play, many Chinese have felt increasing pressure, which comes from both the rising “market price” and their peers, to mete out more. In Jinan, the capital city of East China’s Shandong province, it is said that since this year, 500 yuan (US$79) has even replaced 200 ($31) to become the new customary amount in some urban families, and that giving a close friend’s or relative’s child 100 yuan or 200 yuan will only humiliate themselves.
Chinese in their late 20s and 30s take to online discussion forums to rant against the economic pinch brought by this whole red-envelope-giving tradition adjusted for inflation. “I have altogether given away more than 6,000 yuan (US$950) as red-envelope money,” Mr. Li, a Jinan resident said. Li spent more money on wrapping red envelopes this Spring Festival than any previous one. He credited the increase to raging inflation and the constant urge to keep up with Joneses. “I am afraid that if I gave each child 300 yuan ($47), like I did last year, there is probably not much for them to buy with the money… Last year, I gave 300 yuan as red-envelope money to my cousin’s kid. Later I found that other people gave at least 500. I was so embarrassed. So I gave 800 instead this year.”
Ms. Zhang said that as an ordinary worker at a state-owned enterprise, the tradition has made his life really stressful, “I am going back to my hometown for this Chinese New Year. There are 10 children waiting for red envelopes, to say the least.”
At the same time, Chinese children these days do have the apple of their eyes. Consumer electronics such as iPad and iPhone 4 are all the rage in China, and when pestered by guileless children for these fancy gadgets, adults do have a hard time turning down such requests.
Chinese children play with iPhones at a New Year’s Eve banquet
Therefore, netizens have come up with four solutions to dodge the obligation of giving red envelopes and to save money.
1, Go traveling.
“The best way to avoid giving red-envelope money is to go out and travel,” said Ms. Wang, a resident in the city of Chongqing in China’s Southwest. “My extended family has so many little children. My wallet always had to suffer in the past years. A loss of quite a few thousand.” This year, Ms. Wang went on vacation with her friend during the Chinese New Year.
This year, Ms. Wang went on a vacation with her friend to Lijiang, a popular getaway in southwestern Yunnan province. It cost them 4,000 yuan per person, “Which is pretty much what I spent on red envelopes last year. It is such a good deal. I will talk my parents into traveling with me next year. Besides, it is an excuse that relatives and friends can’t complain much about.”
2, Buy gifts instead.
Duan Ying, 24, works at an advertising company in Chongqing. She makes less than 2,000 yuan a month. “The company only gave 800 yuan as the year-end bonus, which is not enough for Spring Festival expenses at all,” Duan said. So she bought her two little nephews clothing, and her grandfather a coat.
“Now the gifts for three persons cost less than 400 yuan in total. And they actually make me look better and more sincere.”
3, Make mutual pact.
Cao Hong and Cao Bo are brothers from Chongqing doing business in Guangxi province. They have entered a pact of no red-envelope money. “If I give his kid 1,000 yuan, he will definitely reciprocate with 1,000 yuan. What is the point of this much ado about nothing?”
4, Make visits ahead of the New Year.
“I visited my relatives ahead of time, so no red envelope was requested,” Ms. Liu, a Chongqing resident, started making New Year visits from December 26, almost a month in advance. “Because it was so early, no kid asked me for it.” Ms. Liu said that she actually didn’t have a choice, as she works at a shopping center, and during the first few days of the Spring Festival, I must be too busy working at the shopping center to make any visit. “Anyways, it did help me gracefully avoid giving any red envelope,” she said.