It’s the time of the year again, where everyone looks forward to having hotpot dinners, extended family reunions, and most of all, red envelopes — otherwise known as ang baos (红包)! Especially for Chinese families, the ang bao is a common sight during Chinese New Year. However, beyond the lovely crispy dollar bills within those ang baos, just how much do you know about them?
Here are five interesting facts about ang baos for you to impress your relatives with. (And maybe even get an extra few dollars for dropping some wisdom.)
1. Ang baos were said to ward off demons
The real origins of how and where ang baos come from are debatable. However, most sources agree that ang baos originated from ancient China, and spread throughout Asia with the Chinese diaspora. The most popular story depicts how a demon named Suì (祟) was terrorizing villagers in China at night, where the victims were mostly children. The demon was quite fearsome: If it touched the children’ heads whilst they were asleep, they would become deathly ill or even die! A Chinese couple in the village, worried about the safety of their newborn baby, prayed to their god for protection.
Their god answered their prayers and sent eight fairies to protect the baby. The fairies disguised themselves as eight coins placed under the child’s pillow at night. When night fell and the demon approached the baby, the eight fairies, still in their coin forms, shone so brightly and frightened off the monster, which ran away in terror. In the wake of the demon’s departure, the villagers began spreading the word to others, and eventually, everyone started giving coins to their children every Spring festival to scare off other demons.
2. Ang baos weren’t originally baos
Given its origins, ang baos look very much different in the past. In fact, people used to thread coins with a red string to give their children. However, as the custom became increasingly popular, it became more and more expensive to give coins. At the same time, printing presses became mainstream and cheaper in China, and thus the red packets as we know them today were born.
3. There’s a proper (and improper) way to give and receive ang baos
The act of giving or receiving ang baos has tremendous symbolic significance, way more important than the actual amount of cash inside. Most of you should have probably known the following tips by now, but it’s always good to have a little reminder once in a while.
- Never give wrinkled, old or dirty bills!
- No coins (pretty ironic, since ang baos started off as coins).
- Do not give unlucky amounts of cash (no amounts starting with ‘4’ like ‘S$44’, ‘S$4 or any odd-numbered amounts, as good fortune comes in pairs)
- Always be prepared to give out ang baos at any given time during Chinese New Year visits
- Always use two hands to receive your ang bao! This is a gesture of respect.
- Don’t open the ang bao in front of the giver.
- Express thanks with the greeting “祝你新年快乐” (zhù nǐ xīn nián kuài lè), which means “wishing you a happy new year!”
This coming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Dog and here’s a unique greeting you can use to impress your relatives even more: “狗年吉祥” (gǒu nián jí xiáng). It means “good luck for this Year of the Dog!” Try using it to jazz up your Chinese New Year greetings! For those who are unsure if you’re born in the Year of the Dog, it would be the years 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958.
4. Apart from Singapore and China, other Asian countries give out ang baos, too
In Asia, 5 other countries, besides Singapore and China, in total that have the tradition of handing out ang baos. Here’s a list of those other countries:
- Cambodia: Instead of angbaos, Cambodians give Ang Pavs or Tae Eas. Ang Pavs, however, are not given directly to family members who already have jobs, even if they aren’t married yet. For these family members, they have to pass the Ang Pavs meant for them to their parents or younger siblings.
- Vietnam: Ang baos in Vietnam are called Bao li xi, meaning “to celebrate a new age.” One interesting tradition is for subordinates to hand “bao li xi” to their boss’ children, as well. It’s not hard to imagine that subordinates are often caught in a conundrum: too low an amount is disrespectful, but too high an amount can possibly amount to corruption!
- Philippines: The Philippines has a large Chinese population, and the tradition of giving out ang baos is not unusual at all(even expected) during Chinese New Year and other occasions.
- Japan: Called “otoshidama” in Japan, their ang baos aren’t ang — instead, they are white. The Japanese also personalize each otoshidama by writing the name of the receiver on the back of the envelope.
- South Korea: Very similar to that in Japan, white envelopes are given, too, and are called “sae bae ton” in South Korea.
5. Ang baos have gone digital
The first digital ang bao went mainstream in China, through the popularization of the messenger app WeChat. WeChat first rolled out their digital ang bao feature in 2014 and it has been a roaring success ever since. Fellow tech giant Alibaba has thus rolled out their own version of the digital ang bao on Alipay. In 2017 alone, over the six-day Chinese Spring Festival in China, a record 516 million Chinese sent and received 32 billion digital ang baos — 10 times the number over the same period in 2015!
The soaring popularity of digital ang baos can be attributed to how social and gamified it has become. Using WeChat, users can send individual digital angbaos to friends and families. They can even send ang baos with random amounts of digital credits within groups, turning the ang bao into a small gambling game. WeChat went on to create another ang bao game, in which users have to grab the ang baos as fast as they can. Here are a few ways people tried to make the most out of the ang bao game:
Back here in Singapore, DBS Bank and POSB are actively testing and promoting the usage of digital ang baos, too! In fact, according to DBS, the number of digital ang baos sent out in 2017 was 5 times higher than in 2016.
So, what do you think of this new digital ang bao trend? Do you still believe in physical ang baos? Do you think that digital ang baos are the future? Should RateX consider adding the eAng Bao feature, too?
Share your thoughts with us! In the meantime, here’s to a prosperous Year of the Dog (with lots and lots of ang bao to welcome the New Year)!