Hongbao red packets moment envelopes and money gifts

Hongbao (红包), literally “red envelopes,” are traditional gifts of money that are given during Chinese New Year and other special occasions – either digitally (preferred over WeChat) or in physical cash form.

According to Chinese folklore, hongbao, which are colored a lucky red, are supposed to protect children from a monster named Sui, which places its hands on the foreheads of sleeping children on Chinese New Year’s Eve in order to make them sick. According to the story, the only way for people to scare the monster away was to wrap a coin in red paper and place it on their child’s pillow.

Over time, this evolved into the practice seen today, in which children (and almost everyone else with a smartphone) are given red envelopes containing money, and further spread to encompass other dates such as birthdays, graduation dinners, being accepted into university, weddings and other events, instead of gifts.

Where a hongbao is expected…

Recipient Birthday
New Year
(low earner)
New Year
(avg earner)
Your Parents 1000 888 2000
Your Grandparents 888 588 1000
Your Younger Children (no income) 188 188 188
Your Older Children (with income) 588 388 788
Children of close friends 388 58 200
Your Co-Workers 388 n/a n/a
To your Employees cake 13th Month Salary 13th Month Salary
To other Children greeting 10 20
To staff at regular bar/restaurant* greeting & drink 188 288
Building Security Guards message 200 300
AYI cake 13th Month Salary 13th Month Salary
Driver cake 288 13th Month Salary

* generally only if they are younger than you and you are regularly utilizing their services at least twice a month, and they are very good to you.

Other Events

When Who Amount
Baby is one month old The baby’s parents. RMB 200-1,000
Weddings The bride or groom. RMB 200-1,000
Graduation dinner The students parents. RMB 200-1,000
Family moving home Any adult in the family RMB 200-500


On these occasions, you should give them hongbao only if you are invited to the birthday, wedding or dinner. If they don’t invite you, you can keep the money.  Of course, those are the ‘official’ rules.

Common Notes

guide HongBaoPacket

Generally speaking, it is ideal to give round numbers or numbers ending in 8. 88, 188, 288, 388, 580, 680, 780, 800 etc. are good numbers. Due to superstitions, Four is an unlucky number in China so avoid any number that contains a 4 (except double happiness of 4+4=44×2=88 for children), and never any coins!

It’s tradition to put crisp, new bills inside. Giving dirty or wrinkled bills is in bad taste. In the week leading up to Chinese New Year, many people stand in long queues at banks to exchange old bills for new ones.

The amount of hongbao you are expected to give varies from place to place and also depends on how close you are to the people in question. There are no set rules. It depends on the nature and closeness of your relationship—the closer you are, the more money you would give (within your financial ability).

But there are some exceptions. To somebody with whom you are very close (a younger boyfriend or girlfriend for example, or an older co-worker), you might choose to give a gift rather than a hongbao because money cannot represent wishes anymore.

It’s also common practice sending multiple very small digital (shared) Hongbao in WeChat groups that you are in, particularly if you appear to be wealthier than most.  Often sending RMB 8.88 shared by 8 people, of RMB 88 shared by 18 people etc…)   Always remember to thank the person if you receive red packets in such a group, even if it’s just 1 jiao. (it’s the thought that counts)


CNY pick a hongbaoTipping is not popular in China and is officially discouraged.

However, as a foreigner, instead of tips, if you eat regularly in a local restaurant or drink in a local bar, consider give some Hongbao to your regular wait staff (and chef’s / busboys / cleaners / doorman and manager) at Lunar New Year (CNY) or before you leave China.

You will be amazed at how appreciative the recipients will be.

I often make it fun but loading a bunch of different amounts in different envelopes and let them lucky draw.  Be warned, all will compare later, so do it properly.  I usually have about 30% as RMB 5, 30% as RMB 10, 20% as RMB 20, 10% as RMB 50, 5% as RMB 88 and the remaining 1 or 2 as RMB 100 or RMB 188. It’s truly joy to give and watch the fun for all.