Why do the Chinese give red envelopes

: New Year's Customs in China: The Danger of Red Envelopes

Beijing - Mrs. An waves it away. "Oh, now it's back to arithmetic," says the woman who once toiled in a Beijing factory. “How much did Uncle Wang give away last year, how much have we given Grandma Mei this year? It is difficult to keep track of all the visits to relatives and friends that the Chinese are indulging in these days.

The Spring Festival has started, the New Year has arrived. It is the time of Hongbao, the red envelopes, this Chinese art of giving away. It has lost some of its tradition and is now even calling China's head of state onto the scene.

Red envelopes filled with money are used in China on festive days - especially on New Year's Day. Children in particular greet the guests with the slogan: “All the best and good luck. Give me the Hongbao! ”According to a legend, it was golden coins, packed in a red bag, that saved a boy from a monster that ravaged the villages at the beginning of the year. The parents had fallen asleep, the evil would have had a free run to devour the child had it not been for the package. In ancient China, for example, it was believed that children had to be given red envelopes at the beginning of the year.

Part of the corruption system

In the past there were a few yuan in the envelope, but now thick wads of money end up there that are no longer intended for children. Functionaries like to make use of the little "attentions" and can be quickly convinced with a bulging Hongbao to put their stamp where it actually doesn't belong. The red envelopes are a huge expense item for government offices and state-owned companies.

Stop it! Since Xi Jinping was put in China's presidential chair, he has been fighting the evil of corruption. He does this eloquently, allegedly having around 100,000 officials removed from their posts. In his “Eight Rules Against Waste”, the President spoke a year ago about not using the red envelopes.

Head of state as a role model

Party officials have to set a good example, it is always said. No more banquets, no more administrative buildings converted into castles, no more abalone mussels and sea cucumber soups. He presented himself modestly in the media just a few weeks ago. Smiling, Xi strolled into a Beijing self-service store, bought a couple of baozi (steamed dumplings), and delighted bystanders.

Officials may listen to the head of state, but it is generally difficult to dissuade the Chinese from their red envelopes. There are a few things you have to consider. First of all, there are the internal family calculations: Who has already given whom how much, who has to give whom how much? Who do I want to appease, whom do I want to put under pressure? Other rules also determine the contents of the envelope. Odd numbers are frowned upon, four notes are just as bad as sums containing a four (the Chinese term for “four” sounds similar to the word for “to die”). Numbers like 80, 800, or even better 888 are preferred because the word "eight" rhymes with the syllable that is part of the Chinese "fortune".