Monday, April 28, 2008

The Hong Bao Business


In Chinese society, a red envelope or red packet (Known as Hong Bao in Mandarin) is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions. The Hong Bao, that are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as Chinese weddings or on holidays such as the Chinese New Year, consists of money (often an even number, like 88 or 600 kuais) and the envelop is always red as the colour symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

I first thought this was a funny idea, but lately, the controversies of the use of Hong Baos are starting to make me annoyed. What is supposed to be used as a gift to newlyweds and children during the Chinese New Year is more and more being used as a bribe to get things your way.

Chinese media are big Hong Bao consumers. Many birds have whispered in my ears that some Chinese journalists won’t even turn up to events unless they get their little envelope with money as a ‘thank you for the effort.’ Defenders of the Hong Bao claims that it’s ‘taxi money’ to get to and back from the event, however, I once received an envelope with 400 kuais (at a hotel opening which I was covering for a city magazine), and taxis seldom costs more than 25…

Another Hong Bao occasion is when Chi men take their driver’s licence. In order to pass their driving test they should provide the teacher with a Hong Bao. In other words; no red envelope, no driver’s license…

What’s next? Handing over a Hong Bao in order to pass your midterm exams? Sacrificing Hong Baos to the gods so that u get a healthy child? Slipping Hong Baos under the table at restaurants so that you get less msg in your food? Or are all those already valid situations for when a Hong Bao is passed over? Don’t ask me because I am only just finding out.

1 comment:

Pingu said...

It's China. You hate it, but it's too ingrained in Chinese minds. This is the way business has been done for hundreds of years. :(
Those who denouce it, practice it themselves. Simple things could be just a gift to your superior during Chinese New Year, or a gift when you are asking someone to help you.