Expats and locals discuss the Chinese tradition of giving children cash as gifts

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/25 21:43:39

Show me the money!

The one-week Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year, or CNY) holiday is perhaps the most exciting time of the year for children, when they can receive hongbao from their parents and relatives. Hongbao, a red envelop with cash inside, is a gift that adults like to give kids during CNY. Like Western parents on Christmas Eve, many Chinese parents secretly place hongbao under their children's pillow after they fall asleep on the New Year's Eve. Finding a hongbao after waking up is a pleasant start to the new year and a sweet childhood memory for many Chinese.

So how much money do children of different ages and areas receive? How do they spend their money? What do foreigners in China think about this time-honored tradition? A few locals and expats in Shanghai recently shared with the Global Times their hongbao stories and opinions.

Although hongbao originally were about expressing wishes and less about giving and receiving cash, today many Chinese just want the money.

An online video made by The Beijing News recently went viral. In this video, a teenage boy shared that he received over 10,000 yuan ($1,574) during 2017's CNY, higher than many white-collars' monthly salary. Another 30-something man, by contrast, recalled that the hongbao he used to receive as a child were only around 10 yuan.

The amount of money varies by age and area. Based on a "hongbao map" made by a domestic financial management company, hongbao in East China's Fujian Province averagely contain 3,500 yuan, ranking top among all Chinese provinces. Following are East China's Zhejiang Province (3,100 yuan), Beijing (2,900 yuan) and Shanghai (1,600 yuan), according to a recent report by sina.com.cn.

In general, people in more developed regions tend to give or receive hongbao with more money. Interestingly, South China's Guangdong Province, though more economically developed than most inner regions, give hongbao containing only 50 yuan on average, the map shows.

"We Cantonese people focus more on the hongbao's original meaning: sharing New Year's wishes with each other," a Guangdong citizen commented online.

The situation is quite different in Guangdong's neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In a Global Times' interview, local resident Li Hongmei said that on CNY she spends several thousand yuan on hongbao for kids. "But for each hongbao, I only put 200-500 yuan inside," the 46-year-old added, echoing the average amount (300 yuan) that the map depicts for Guangxi.

Shanghai residents usually have a higher hong-bao budget. Le Xiude, 71, shared that he gave his grandson a 2,000-yuan hongbao this CNY. "I only have one grandson, and hongbao are just once a year," he said. "So I want to give him a big one."

Le himself also received hongbao when young, but only 2-3 yuan in total each year. "Prices in the 1950s were much different from now," he recalled. "At that time, a candy cost only 0.01 yuan, and watching a movie was just 0.05 yuan."

Millennial minded

Many millennials recall that, when they were children (in the 1990s and early 2000s), they had to turn over a majority of their money to cover their parents' cost in giving hongbao to others.

For instance, if a hongbao contained 308 yuan inside, the child might only keep 8 yuan; the remaining 300 yuan went to his or her parents. Twenty-four-year-old Yuan Yuxuan bitterly remembers this unfair custom.

"When I was little, I always gave most of my hongbao money to my parents," she said. "But I was allowed to keep a little to buy myself snacks and candies."

Kids these days, however, seem to have more rights to their own hongbao money. "Post-00s and post-10s [children born after the year 2000] have a more independent spirit and want to spend the money on themselves," mother Xu Yin told a Shenzhen media.

Li allows her 10-year-old daughter to deal with her hongbao and her daughter Peng Xinyi doesn't let her down. "Every year I donate some of my hongbao money to schools in rural areas," the fourth-grader told the Global Times, adding that she deposits the remainder in her own bank account. "I think saving money is a good habit."

Expat attitudes

Though many foreigners told the Global Times that they have heard of hongbao, few know what it actually is.

Jo Quirin from Germany has no idea what exactly is inside the red envelope. "Is it money? I'm not sure," he laughed. "Chinese New Year is not known in Europe."

Giving cash as a gift is less common in the West than in China. French national Aurore said that she rarely gives money as a present unless it is for a wedding.

"We send children Christmas gifts, which can be toys, clothes or books. It takes time to do Christmas shopping, as we want to prepare something that they really like, which may match their tastes, like hobbies or favorite colors."

"But I believe that the best gift is something that you and the kids can explore together and share with each other, such as watching a children's drama at a small theater," Quirin told the Global Times.



Photo:Huang Lanlan/GT

Photo:Huang Lanlan/GT

Photo:Huang Lanlan/GT


Photo:Huang Lanlan/GT


Photo:Huang Lanlan/GT

Photo:Huang Lanlan/GT





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