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【Learn Chinese】Hongbao Do’s and Don’ts
When preparing to give a 红包 (hóng bāo) to someone, it’s important to be mindful of certain associated taboos. Avoiding them will help you avoid a great deal of unnecessary embarrassment.
Below are some guidelines to help you fill your red envelopes with style.
What goes inside?
When preparing traditional physical red envelopes, remember to stuff them with paper money, not coins. It’s also important to remember that you should strive to give fresh, new money—not old, crumpled notes. Much of the paper money that has been in circulation for a while is already starting to show its age, so the best approach is to visit a bank and withdraw some crisp, new bills.
How much?
The total amount of money that’s included in Chinese red envelopes varies widely depending on the occasion, the geographic location and the relationship between the giver and the receiver.
In China, some hongbao can contain less than one hundred renminbi, while others can contain tens of thousands of yuan.
People generally take hongbao traditions very seriously and the appropriate amount for different occasions is likely to be common knowledge among people within the Chinese community where you happen to be based.
When trying to decide on the exact amount to include, therefore, it’s best to ask a local for advice.
Number rules
When it comes to stuffing hongbao with cash, including bills that add up to amounts that include even numbers are where it’s at, especially 6’s and 8’s, which are considered to be lucky numbers in Chinese culture.
Under normal circumstances, however, odd numbers should be avoided...except, that is, for 9. This is because the Chinese pronunciation of 9 (九) is jiǔ, which is a homophone (meaning it sounds the same as) the Chinese character for “long” (久 jiǔ). Therefore, using bills that add up to an amount that contains the number 9 is thought to symbolize a long life or a long marriage.
Including bills that add up to an amount of money that includes the number 4 is usually anathema for a similar reason: the Chinese word for 4 is 四 (sì) which is a homophone for 死 (sǐ; to die). Since it literally sounds like death, you should avoid any number combinations with 4 like the proverbial plague.