by Ben Lo | 8:44 pm

Happy New Year 2019, readers, though the Chinese New Year has not really arrived yet.

Red Envelope

Photo credit: Solomom203


What’s A Red Envelope?

A red envelope is also known as a red packet or 紅包 (Hongbao) in Mandarin. Basically, you put some money in a red envelope and give out as a gift on special occasions such as Chinese New Year, weddings, graduations, promotion, the birth of a baby or a store opening, etc.

Similar traditions can also be observed in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam but there might be some slight differences among these countries.

In Taiwan and China, red is regarded as a symbol of good luck and prosperity in this case, while other colors convey different meanings, For example, people give out White Envelopes when attending funerals.

The Origin

In ancient times, an evil spirit called “Sui” always approached children on Chinese New Year’s Eve which led to the sickness or even death of them. One year, an old couple gave eight coins wrapped with red paper to their child and put it under his pillow to ward off the evil spirit Sui. When Sui came, the eight coins (as they were Eight Immortals in disguise) shone strong light and scared Sui away. The next day, the news spread and everyone followed suit. That is the origin of 壓歲錢, meaning “the money to suppress Sui” literally.

Some Don’ts


  • Try not to open the red envelopes when the givers are present
  • Try not to give odd numbers but even numbers. For example, give NT$ 200, NT$ 600, NT$ 800 etc.
  • Avoid number 4 as it sounds similar to the pronunciation of the Chinese character 死, which means death. That is, avoid NT$ 400, NT$ 4000 etc.

How Much should I Put in a Red Envelope?

It really depends on who you are giving the red envelopes to. Generally speaking, you will give more when you are giving to the elder than to siblings, friends and children.

Take myself as a example, I usually received NT$ 200 (around $7 dollars) from my grandmother, NT$600-1000 (around $20-33) from my aunt and NT$ 2000 (around $67) or more from my mother when I was young. Plus, I could always expect NT$600-2000 (around $20-67) from other relatives. But please be noted that there is really no fixed amount that you should give. You can definitely decide how much you would like to put in a red envelope.

When it comes to wedding, it really depends on how close you are to the bride or the groom. If you are really close, you can give from around NT$2200 to NT$3600 (about $73-120). Otherwise, you can give NT$1200-1600 (about $40-53) if you are not that close. However, as the inflation goes up, the amount of money is on the rise as well accordingly.

Red Envelopes in Modern Era

As we are in a technological era, i have seen some changes myself too. For example, WeChat launched the service of distributing virtual red envelopes to your contacts on the phone via its mobile payment platform in 2014. Since then, it has been getting more and more popular. As it becomes very common and popular nowadays, red envelope function on WeChat is not limited to the traditional definition of red envelopes anymore. Say, if you are checking-in in a hostel, you can now transfer a red envelope on WeChat to the owner of the hostel as the payment of your stay.

Moreover, in a globalized world, I have personally given out red envelopes with different currency in them. For example, I have given out red envelopes with Peso in them when I celebrated my Chinese New Year with my Filipino friends; red envelopes with euro in them as my friend was getting married in Germany. These are the things that I didn’t even expect as a person born and raised in Taiwan.

In a Nutshell

A red envelope is a very great and ideal way to express your blessings and wishes for the person you are giving it to. You can always write down the words you would like to say on the red envelopes to express your wishes and sign your name on red envelopes.

Hope sooner or later, you all will have close Chinese friends whom you can practice this custom with in the near future.

Once again,
Happy New Year and Happy Chinese New Year soon.

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This is super interesting! I learned about red envelopes in my global management class where we spoke of different cultures, and I wanted to know more about it! Avoiding the number 4 was good to know :O This was really helpful- thanks!

Jan 07.2019 | 11:40 pm

    Ben L.

    Glad that you like it. Thank you for your feedback as well.

    Jan 07.2019 | 11:43 pm


what an interesting article!! I had not idea about red envelopes and their meaning. Is it OK to give one to someone outside your family?

Jan 07.2019 | 05:16 pm


    Of course, you can give it to your friends if there is a special occasion worth celebrating.

    Jan 07.2019 | 06:54 pm


Thanks, nice with an insight into history and culture, now I know what to do if someday I have to give a red envelope.

Jan 07.2019 | 05:37 pm


    You are very welcome. Hope you can receive one soon. Good luck.

    Jan 07.2019 | 06:54 pm


Nice article Ben, I can honestly say that today I learnt something new. I find things like this very interesting especially once you know the origin story. Thanks for sharing and I will be back for sure

Jan 07.2019 | 05:54 pm


    Thank you for the feedback. I am glad that this article is informative for you to learn something new. See you soon.

    Jan 07.2019 | 06:55 pm

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