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Digitalising Chinese New Year Red Packets: Changing Practices and Meanings

Louis Augustin-Jean and Vandana Saxena
p. 21-29

Abstract

The hongbao is a monetary gift given during Chinese New Year and other occasions. In 2015, WeChat introduced its electronic version in China. This has altered its original and ritualistic meaning, which is linked to a conception of the world characterised by filial piety, benevolence, and social harmony. Here the red packet is seen as a connector linking the generations, and also the individual to the community. The money inserted in the red packet symbolises these relationships, as well as the debt of life that can never be reimbursed. Hence, the amount is symbolic. The time-space compression that allowed for the introduction of the e-hongbao has changed this meaning, and the WeChat app can be analysed as a mediator that links the sender and the receiver. This blurs the meaning of the hongbao, linking it to economic practices and highlighting the individualisation of Chinese society.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 6 May 2022. Accepted on 10 July 2023.

Excerpt

Full text document will be published online on March 2025.

Outline

Introduction
Studying hongbao
Giving and receiving hongbao: A ritualised practice
The Chinese New Year and the handling of hongbao
A ritualistic interpretation: The red packet as a connector
E-hongbao and social change
Conclusion

First lines

Introduction

It is truism to state that economic growth in China has boosted the monetary exchanges. But this truism turns into an enigma (especially for mainstream economists) when one notices a parallel increase in monetary gifts: in some instances, such as weddings, they have replaced material gifts such as food, linens, or furniture. Even more remarkable is the explosion (in the number and total value) of red packets (hongbao 紅包, also called red envelopes) distributed during the Chinese New Year (CNY), also known as the Spring Festival. The practice of giving packets filled with crisp new banknotes during CNY is the largest occurrence of simultaneous nonmarket monetary exchanges in the world. The custom, practised by most Chinese, is truly an “event of cultural significance,” as opposed to an “event of personal significance” (Bian 2018).

The CNY hongbao symbolises new beginnings and bears the wishes of prosperity, good health, and luck. It is a monetary gift given according to spe...

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References

Bibliographical reference

Louis Augustin-Jean and Vandana Saxena, Digitalising Chinese New Year Red Packets: Changing Practices and Meanings China Perspectives, 136 | 2024, 21-29.

Electronic reference

Louis Augustin-Jean and Vandana Saxena, Digitalising Chinese New Year Red Packets: Changing Practices and Meanings China Perspectives [Online], 136 | 2024, Online since 01 March 2025, connection on 14 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/16458; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.16458

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Copyright

The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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