Chinese Red Envelope Custom

The Chinese red envelope custom (利是 - pronounced as lì shì) means “good luck,” “auspicious,” or “highly profitable.” (Beggs/Flickr)
The Chinese red envelope custom (利是 - pronounced as lì shì) means “good luck,” “auspicious,” or “highly profitable.” (Beggs/Flickr)

During Chinese New Year, Chinese people practice a custom called利是 or 利市 (lì shì), which is also known as Red Envelopes or Red Packets (紅包 hóng bāo). This Chinese red envelope custom is especially popular in Southern China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The meaning of 利是 (lì shì) is “good luck,” “auspicious,” or “highly profitable.”

紅包 (hóng bāo) is a sum of money placed in a red envelope or packet and given as a gift. These are most commonly given on various festive occasions, such as Chinese New Year, weddings, birthdays, etc. Red represents celebration and happiness. Traditionally, the lucky money was wrapped with red paper, or put in a red envelope. In recent years, red packets are often replaced by machine-printed red envelopes.

This 利是 (lì shì) or 紅包 (hóng bāo) custom is traditionally practiced between family members, relatives, and close friends. On the eve of the Chinese New Year, when children greet their parents and grandparents on the arrival of the New Year, they receive red envelopes from the elderly. And this money is also called 壓歲錢 (yā suì qián). The amount of money is often small, just a symbol as a wish for good luck.

In recent years, this 利是 (lì shì) custom has extended to some agencies and companies. The employer issues a sum of money to employees to show appreciation for their good work, thus strengthening their teamwork relationship.

Unfortunately, in Chinese society today, this traditional custom has turned into a system of bribery for corrupt officials to steal the nation’s assets! Such bribery is not only practiced within China, but has also been extended to international companies, thus spreading this moral corruption to the whole world!

Fortunately, China’s 5,000-year-old traditional culture is deeply rooted in peoples’ hearts and its revival is now expanding and progressing.

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