A boy in Hunan province grabs a red envelope he got during the Spring Festival. [China Daily]
The Spring Festival is nearly here and small red envelopes will soon be making an appearance.
For Luo Xiao, a bank employee in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, this has always been a bitter-sweet time. While pleased to receive her substantial year-end bonus, she also knows that a large chunk of that money will go into the hong bao, or red envelopes.
This year, Luo has agreed with relatives and friends that they will limit each red envelope to a maximum of 200 yuan (US$29).
"In previous years, my son received at least 500 yuan, and sometimes even 1,000 yuan, per envelope. It was a great burden, for we felt pressured to return the same value in red pockets to nephews and nieces, and friends' children," Luo says.
"Inflating these red envelopes often leads to comparisons and jealousies among children, when they return to school after the Spring Festival."
While some people feel it is better to do away with the hong bao custom, Luo disagrees saying it is part of Chinese tradition and an expression of affection.
"I've told my son that the red envelope, no matter how much money it contains, shows the giver's love and deserves his gratitude," she says.
Her concerns over the amount in these envelopes reflect those of many urban parents who worry that their only child, being brought up in a well-off family, may take it for granted that money comes easily and can be spent lavishly. More parents are starting to realize the importance of cultivating value for money in their children.
Wu Hao, a Beijing businessman, says he cherishes the childhood memory that he and his brothers have of placing their red envelopes under their pillow and dreaming of all the snacks and toys they could buy with that money.
"It is a collective memory of my generation," Wu says. "At that time, we children got little or no pocket money. We looked forward to the Spring Festival, as that's when we would get new clothes as gifts. We could keep the red envelopes - usually with just a few kuai inside - for only one night. We had to hand over all the money to our parents the next day and never saw it again."
The story of the red envelope of Wu's son is vastly different. The 13-year-old receives a monthly allowance of about 500 yuan from his father. He has his own bank account, and all money he has received in red envelopes since he was 8, has gone into it.
"He is never extravagant, but it bothered me to hear my parents telling him recently that, 'your father founded and owns the company. You will inherit it in future'," Wu says.
"I don't want my son to think there will be a huge legacy waiting for him. I tell him I will leave nothing to him. He should figure out what he is interested in and what he can do for a living," Wu says.
He took his son on a hiking trip in Qinghai province last summer. Before they set out, they shopped at an outdoor equipment store. The boy was tongue-tied when he saw the several thousands that all the outdoors gear cost.