I’ve been receiving ‘Ang Pao’ (Hokkien for red packets) for years.
When I was much younger, receiving these red packets (containing money) was the only thing I looked forward to during Chinese New Year.
However, as the years went by, it’s been getting a little more awkward to receive these packets (‘Hong Bao’ in Mandarin or ‘Lai See’ in Cantonese) from my relatives. (After all, I’m in my 30s and still unmarried.)
On February 5, 2019, the Chinese community will be ushering in the Year of the Boar.
It’s A Token Of Good Fortune
Before we talk about how much money one should put into these packets, let’s first look at how and when the practice of giving out ‘Ang Pao’ began.
It is widely believed that the practice dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC), where the elderly would thread coins with a red string to gift to the younger generation as ya sui qian.
Back then, ‘Ya Sui Qian’ means “money to ward off evil spirits” and was believed to protect the recipient from sickness and death.
The ‘Ya Sui Qian’ was later replaced by red envelopes when printing presses became more common. It was then that it became known as “money to ward off old age” when the phrase ‘Ya Sui Qian’ is written with the homophone for ‘Sui’ that means “old age” instead of “evil spirits”.
According to a report, the origin of ‘Ya Sui Qian’ might have its roots in a folk tale involving an evil demon called ‘Sui’. Apparently, it touched children’s heads while they were asleep, causing them to fall deathly ill or lead to their deaths.
‘Sui’ is said to be completely black, except for its hands, which are colourless. It was known to appear every Chinese New Year’s Eve during the night to touch a sleeping child’s head three times, causing the child to fall deathly ill or even resulting in their death.
Parents would stay up all night to watch over their children as the demon continued his bout of terror, until a worried couple decided to pray to their deity to protect their newborn child.
Hearing their prayers, the deity sent eight fairies to aid the small family. The fairies turned themselves into eight coins to trick the demon, which were then wrapped in red paper and placed under the infant’s pillow.
Everyone eventually succumbed to sleep, and that was when ‘Sui’ appeared. Just as it approached the infant’s bed, beams of golden light burst out from the red paper and scared ‘Sui’ away!
The miraculous story soon spread throughout the village, and everyone began wrapping coins in red paper to protect their children from ‘Sui’.
However, as time went by, the ‘Ang Pao’ ceased to become a protector from evil spirits and became a symbol of well-wishes and blessings for children.
It’s A Gesture, Not A Transaction!
“Giving ‘Ang Pao’ is a gesture and not a transaction!” Dr Lim Lee Chin, the Vice-Dean at the School of Human Development & Social Services at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) University was quoted as saying in a report.
According to him, there are “no rules” in terms of the amount to put into an ‘Ang Pao’.
However, most Chinese families that Neue got in touch with over the last few weeks seem to think otherwise.
According to them, there are certain ‘Ang Pao’ rules that everyone needs to follow.
Let’s take a look at some of them:
#1. Stick To Even Numbers
The Chinese believe that good things come in pairs. For that reason, it’s been to avoid giving amounts that are odd numbers (for example, $1 or $3).
So anywhere between $2 to $100 would be acceptable. But where possible, it’s best to avoid the number ‘4’ (see rule #2).
#2. Avoid The Number ‘4’
In Chinese , “4” is pronounced “Si”, which sounds like “Shi” (death).
In this context, it’s best to avoid putting $4 into an ‘Ang Pao’.
Putting $14 in an ‘Ang Pao’ is also a big no-no because it sounds like “go die”.
#3. Avoid Torn & Tattered Notes
In Chinese tradition, new things are always preferred, which is why you would see everyone dressed in their new clothes during Chinese New Year.
So do try your best to avoid putting torn and tattered dollar notes into an ‘Ang Pao’. During this time of the year, bank are usually prepared to issue new dollar notes. However, it’s probably best to go early to beat the long queues.
So How Much To Give?
After much discussion with a number of middle-income Chinese families, Neue has come up with an ‘Ang Pao’ rate guide for 2019, based on Brunei (BND) and Singapore Dollars (SGD):
At the end of the day, this is just a rough guide. Ultimately, it’s totally up to you on how much you are comfortable giving!
On behalf of all of us here at Neue, we would like to wish all our Chinese readers ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’!