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Chinese Wedding: Red Envelopes

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Chinese Wedding Red Envelope

If you have been in China before or have a Chinese friend – then you might know something about the custom of red envelopes (“hong bao”). Generally speaking  – this is a monetary gift presented inside of the red envelope. There are many stories related to this custom. Today I want to tell  you about red envelopes given at Chinese wedding (not a “naked” wedding described previously).

Red envelopes from guests

Once you got an invitation to a wedding which usually comprises the invitation card, even number of candies (8, 10 or 12) and two packs of cigarettes – you should go and buy red envelope with an appropriate inscription:

  • Happy Wedding  (新婚快乐 –“xin hun kuai le”) or
  • Happiness (喜- “xi”) or
  • Be a Good Couple Until Old Age (百年好合 –“bai nian hao he”) or
  • Happy forever (永远幸福 –“yong yuan xing fu”) and so on

Then you should think about the amount of money to put inside. There is no special regulation and it mostly depends on your relationship with the newly weds. Unwritten law prescribes that when invited to someone’s party you must give the same (or bigger) amount of money than you’ve received before.

Envelopes are given at the specially arranged front desk near the entrance to the restaurant. Some people, however, prefer to pass them directly to the groom and bride along with their kind wishes.

Chinese wedding. Red envelopes piled on the front desk.

Chinese wedding. Red envelopes piled on the front desk.

Usually guests write their names on the envelope – so that receivers know whom they got it from. Sometimes, however, the name is not written (and since in China we give cash and not named checks) – groom and bride will pay close attention to the “source” of the envelope in order to distinguish it later.

Red envelope from new weds’ parents

From groom’s parents.

First two envelopes are given to groom and bride in the morning of wedding day when he takes his fiancee to their new house to hold a special tea ceremony. The sum of money in these envelopes is not big: from RMB 88 to RMB 2,000 (1 USD equaled 6.83 RMB at the day of article publishing). In any case it is some even number having a positive symbolical meaning.

The third envelope is the “fattest” one: RMB 1000 – 50,000. It is handed to the groom and bride by his parents on the stage during the wedding party.

From bride’s parents.

Bride’s parents also prepare three envelopes. They will usually contain lesser sums of money. First two are given when groom takes the bride from her house in the morning and the third envelope on the wedding stage.

Red envelopes from bride and groom

Bride and groom will also give red envelopes with little sums, but lucky numbers according to Chinese believes ( RMB 2, 6, 8, 9, 12, 18, 68, 88, 128). These little envelopes are used as “ransoms” to the guests who play different funny tricks with groom.

Chinese wedding. Paying ransom for a bride.

Chinese wedding. Paying ransom for a bride.

For example, when the groom arrives to pick up the bride – her friends and relatives require from him to pass different tests or answer tricky questions in order to take his future wife. Each time when the groom fails – he will give away a little red envelope.

Funny wedding games and challenges are awaiting for him at every step – at the gate of the house, entrance to the apartments, bride room’s door… Would you prefer to make 100 pushups in the tight suit or save yourself with the help of few RMB and meet your girl as soon as possible ;-) ?

Reunion does not end the “troubles” of new weds who’d better prepare more envelopes in advance.

So if you go to Chinese wedding, don’t miss the chance to play jokes and get some money back :-)

Wish you luck and wealth (not necessarily inside red envelopes).

Time to go to bed now.

Sleepy Crystal Tao

  • Jim

    Interesting to read about the red envelopes as I never before understood how it all worked. But as a foreigner, I find issues with it. What happens if a person has two equally respected friends of similar wealth and one gives 500 Yuan and the other 100 Yuan. I tend to think that there is a possibility that the friendships could be re-evaluated and the one who gave the most money will be elevated in importance. In my country the bride and groom often create a gift register of things they need and are happy to receive anything on the list regardless of the value. I think the giving of money is fine if family, but for friends I don’t like the idea of cash as it may change a relationship or create gossip. But that is just my feeling, thanks for explaining it all.

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Jim, you are right saying that two friends of similar wealth giving very different sums of money, would create an embarrassing situation.
    However, giving red envelopes is not a new custom and people have a “feeling” of how much money it would be appropriate to give. And, of course, those who have doubts will discuss it with other friends to get the rough idea.
    Who knows – maybe in the future someone might create an online calculator to figure out the “right” amount of money to put into the red envelope :-)

  • Jim

    The online calculator is a great idea. Look forward to testing your prototype :-)

  • James Roberts

    Dear Crystal, First off Thank You Very Much, for all of your good advice. The more I read and learn about Chinese traditions and customs the more I come to understand what an enchanted country it is. I just learned of Ching Ming day and must say, that in America we have no real traditions or customs.
    The ones we do celebrate like Christmas have become so commercialized they no longer represent their traditional past. It is sad,but I do hope that with the help of my beloved we can make them our own in America. Thanks Again and I look forward to learning all I can James

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Thank you, James.

    I am happy that you like Chinese customs, and hope that together with your girl you will celebrate both Chinese and American holidays.
    In fact, many Chinese – especially young generation – are enchanted with American customs as much as you are with Chinese :smile:

  • Ke Jie

    Crystal:

    I have enjoyed reading the information on your blog. I have a trip sceheduled at the end of the month to see my chinese girlfriend and we plan to visit her parents. I have prepared many gifts as many traditional comments suggest. I have a question relating to the cash gift to the parents, what is an acceptible cash gift? I have purchased the jewelry (4 pieces diamond and gold), I have various gifts for parents and extended family members but the cash gift has few recommendations. I know the gift in 9 is best for the symbology so how does one determine what to put in the envelop? $9, $99, $999, $9,999 RMB etc… Thanks in advance for any guidance.

    Ke Jie

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Dear Ke Jie,

    From your description, I understand that the visit to your girlfriend’s parents does not have a status of betrothal dinner. So in my opinion, you already have prepared a lot of gifts and there is no need for separately giving red envelope. The only exception can be done for little children of CLOSE RELATIVES who might be present. You can put RMB99 or 199 into the little red envelope. By the way, 88/188 or 68/168 are also luck numbers. And it can save you some money. Hahaha :grin:

    Good luck!

  • Alexandru R.

    China has nice habits! ;-) I can say that , some you described , are in Romania’s habits , too! Like the envelope … Here the bride is stolen and the groum has to took her back by full filing some requests ! Here we have many habits , depends of the are of the country! :razz:

  • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

    Stealing (hiding) a bride is a very interesting ritual – it has some similarities to the challenges that a groom must overcome during Chinese wedding.
    Seems that men are supposed to sweat everywhere in order to get a good wife :mrgreen:

  • John

    Dear Crystal,

    I thank you in advance for your help!

    Our son, American, is coming to Wuhan in 3 weeks to propose to his Chinese girlfriend. (she was an interpreter for me on business some years ago, they met via email, since in person many times over 3 years and now plan to marry).

    My wife and I will also visit Wuhan in 4 weeks to meet brides family, etc. We have read that we should provide a gift to her parents in a red envelope, but we do not know how much is appropriate. I do not wish to cause any loss of face.

    Is the amount 9999 yuan considered appropriate, or too extravagant, etc.? We are not wealthy, but do not wish to cause our son embarrassment, or cause loss of face to the parents.

    I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you might make!

    Best wishes,
    John

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      Hi John,

      I can imagine that the whole trip to Wuhan will put a serious strain on family’s budget :roll:

      Regarding red envelope, the sum of 9999 yuan is appropriate. I can assure you that the girl’s parents won’t lose face – it is normal for them to accept a monetary gift as a token of recognition for their efforts in raising their daughter. It’s because woman usually leaves her family and after getting married becomes a part of husband’s “clan”.

      Moreover – although it’s a bit off-topic, but just to give you the picture – in China it is widely accepted that the responsibility to take care of kids lies on grandparents from father’s side.

      Getting back to red envelope I want to underline that the more important factor in defining the appropriateness of sum is YOUR financial status (and not the woman family’s).

      One more thing (and I hope that you won’t get red as envelope at the moment you are reading this :lol: ) – the money you give to bride’s parents can be regarded as “bride price”. Besides that both families are also expected to present red envelopes to newly weds on the day of the wedding ceremony itself…

      • John

        Well, thank you very much, Crystal! this is excellent information, and from someone with no side to choose!

        I had read in your blog that there are 3 envolopes to give to the bride and groom– is this still typical, or will one envolope be adequate? Is there a certain time that this should be done?

        The bride-to-be has told me that her parents expect to take my wife and I to dinner on the night we visit them, and that I should not offer to pay for the dinner. Is this correct? Would the dinner be an appropriate time to offer her parents our token red envelope?

        Thank you very much!
        John

        • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

          Giving 3 envelopes is typical – at least in my city. I cannot promise for 100% that it will be the same custom in your future daughter-in-law’s city because sometimes there are different variations in customs for different places.

          As for timing.
          The bride price is usually given to her parents before the wedding.
          Then first two (out of three subsequent envelopes) that contain from few hundred to 1,000 Yuan are given to your son (I) and his bride (II) during the tea ceremony in groom’s house on the wedding day.
          In your case, it’s less clear. Maybe they will arrange tea ceremony in bride’s house, both for you and her parents. Then you can give the two envelopes at that time.
          If not, you don’t have to give.

          The third envelope will be given to groom and bride during the wedding ceremony itself. The host will invite you and the bride’s parents to the stage. You will hand the red envelope (few hundred to 2,000 is OK) to the bride, while her parents will give it to your son.

          So, to summarize all 4 envelopes, it goes like that:
          1. bridal price – 9,999 yuan
          2. during tea ceremony (to your son) – upto 999
          3. during tea ceremony (to your daughter-in-law) – upto 999
          4. during wedding ceremony (to your daughet-in-law) – upto 1,999

          Generally speaking, it’s always the groom’s side to pay for this dinner. However, since you come to China as guests, her family wants to invite you which is also acceptable… and, yes, this dinner is an appropriate time to give the bridal price.

  • jwilley

    I’m trying to purchase some nice red envelopes online, but am not sure……….are there different quality? For instance, are all made of paper, or are some perhaps silk or other fabric?

    Can anyone suggest where to find nice ones? I’ve googled for a couple of hours, but keep ending up at amazon……….

    Thanks,
    John

  • paul k

    i know what people here are saying !!!
    most chinese people think westerners are all rich !!!!

    it also does not help when some try to show they are richer than in reality they really are !!!

    my wife was told up front that i was not rich and i would need to save a few years to come to china !!!

    my wife though neglected to tell her mother and father this !!!!

    we went to a different city to save money then her elderly relatives would not expect us to pay for them to come to my wifes city !!!

    trust me my wifes family are great beyond belief !!!

    my wife even got into a big fight with her mother about the cost of the wedding !!! it hurt me to see my wife do things while i was there to save face about me !!!

    that was the only time in my life i wish i was rich so could have given my wife more for our wedding !!!!

    my wife gave me 5000 yuan and told me to give it to her mother at the supper table and tell her it was from me !!! this was part of my wifes savings !!!

    she did not want her mother and father to think badly of me !! the only ones who know this is me my wife and our daughter !!!!

    one thing i can say not all chinese women are gold diggers !!!!

    i will never forget what my wife did for me not to look bad to her relatives !!!

    i also know it is kind of sneaky but my wife then went out and bought two necklaces one for her mother and one for her sister-in-law and when at the store she asked the sales clerk to make the reciepts out for double what she actually paid and then told me to give the gifts and say they were from me !!!! hehehe

    yes people in china think westerners are all rich they see everyone having two or three cars and boats and such !!!!
    they forget we are in debt as a culture and have no savings compared to chinese who have less but have good savings example my wife and her family !!!

    but as time goes by the chinese i think in a few generations from now will be more like noth america !!!

  • paul k

    oh one thing i forgot to say in my last post i ment to say my sister-in-law and not hers!!! sorry for the type o’s!!!

    i also wanted to say we did not exchange or recieve any red envelopes at our wedding !!!

    i was told by my wife when i asked about this that there family is not rich so anyone who has gotten married over time has just all given the envelopes back to who gave them after the weddings !!! hehehe

    i told my wife in that case please tell my new relatives that not to bother that we do not have this custom in canada !!! then we do not need to bother to give them back later i just want her family to celebrate with us and have fun at our wedding !!!

    i will tell you what i have never seen people almost get into a fist fight over who was going to take us out for dinners and suppers everyday and to their homes !!!

    we also stayed at one of her divorced aunts home while there in leiyang for 4 days !!! she treated us like royalty and like being in a four star hotel !!!

    these are the real chinese people i think of when i hear the words traditional chinese people!!!

    my wife and i two days later needed to go into the hills around leiyang and visit the graves of her ancestors her grand parents !!!

    i knew this was very important to my family to bow and offer food !!!! it was like i was accepted totally into their family structure !!!

  • John

    I wrote in April regarding our American son proposing to a young lady from wuhan, and thought I’d close the loop by writing what actually happened thus far.

    Regarding the red envelopes: when my wife and I went to meet her parents we stayed over 2 nights in HK and were lucky to find a great price at the Shangri-La. I spoke to the concierge, and she provided us with some from the hotel’s wedding collection!

    So far we have followed Crystal’s advice:

    Her parents invited my wife and me, our son and their daughter to a dinner. It was typical, a regular dinner. One nice touch was that we had our own small room. We had prepared the 9,999 yuan suggested, and presented it to her father almost casually about 3/4 through the dinner. He merely said thank you and put it in a pocket. He didn’t count it at the table, and I PRESUME he said thank you, as our future DIL had to translate in both directions. The father asked specific questions of our son (and us) including how spport for her would be provided, were my wife and I prepared to accept her as our responsibility, and would we raise their children, etc. In this Chinese city, grandparents on the groom’s side are to accept responsibility to raise the grandchildren. As you might imagine, we sort of stumbled over that one, as my wife has raised her children and, while we will be quite happy baby-sitters from time-to-time, we do no plan on raising their children. We said something about always being available to provide support to them in all ways.

    It may just have been me, but I left with the distinct impression that the father didn’t really appreciate my wife voicing her opinion, and preferred to speak directly to my son and me.

    At the end of the dinner, he smiled and said, loosely translated, I’m sure, “I hope you can deal with her. She can be quite “naughty”. Probably a better word could have been “troublesome”. The dinner closed, her parents presented us with a lovely box with excellent Chinese tea, and we parted ways.

    Although they are engaged, and have decided to live in the U.S., the paperwork for her to come for the wedding is still underway. We expect it to be completed around January or so.

    There’s no way for us to know how her father felt about the amount we gave for the bride price, but I imagine had they been insulted, we would know about it by now.

    We expect the wedding to be held in the States, and are doubtful that her parents will attend.

    Recently her mother asked her where they would live, and DIL told her in the U.S. I’m certain this was a difficult time; no mother wants to ever learn that her only child will move halfway around the world to live. We tried to make it clear that we would ensure that DIL would have the means to return often to visit, as best we can.

    So for those following the thread, that’s where we stand in the process! Many thinks to all who comments, and Crystal for her excellent input.

    • http://www.lovelovechina.com Crystal

      Regarding the expectation that husband’s parents are supposed to take care of grandchildren – it’s not just “that Chinese city”. It is a universal attitude everywhere in China.

      But I can imagine that it was quite a surprise for you :lol:

      I can feel that your visit was full of surprises (not all of them being pleasant) even though you made some preparations. Now, that’s a culture shock! ;-)

  • John

    I think the visit met our expectations, although my wife did have to head to the hospital for assistance with asthma irritation due to the heavy smog, and construction underway, in Wuhan while we were there. One fascinating event was the taking of the PRE-wedding pictures! Our son is perhaps 6’1″, and muscular, and the photographer found he fit in very few of the traditional men’s clothes!

    We are looking forward to the blending of our cultures, and speaking for myself and very happy things have worked out as well as they seem to have.

    We will be happy to help our son/DIL raise their children, but as my wife and I wouldn’t WANT anyone else to have raised ours, we expect to leave most of that aspect to them. As well, much will depend upon where in the country they choose to live…….

    thanks for everything–I’ll let you all know when the wedding has occurred.

  • http://community.elearners.com/all_blogs/b/lifes_ledger/ Aimee

    Hi Crystal, I know I’m late to this comment thread, but I found your page while researching the proper etiquette of red envelopes. Being an ABC (American Born Chinese), I was previously unaware of how little informed I am about the “rules” of this practice – until yesterday. FYI, I included your suggestions for the 4-envelope wedding protocol in my blog post today: http://bit.ly/wzbuTW. Hope you continue to write about this topic; your blog is one of the most informative (but fun-to-read) ones!

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  • envelopes

    A red envelope is simply a long, narrow, red envelope with money in it. Traditional red envelopes are often decorated with gold Chinese characters like happiness and wealth. 
    how much money goes inside the red envelope?

  • envelopes

    A red envelope is simply a long, narrow, red envelope with money in it. Traditional red envelopes are often decorated with gold Chinese characters like happiness and wealth. 
    how much money goes inside the red envelope?