Many Traditions must be kept by Foreign Employers in China, and none as important as the Red Envelope at Chinese New Year.
The tradition of the red envelope (known as 紅包, hóngbāo) at Chinese New Year makes me quiver in my long, black boots.
The envelope needs to be special, the notes need to be new, it must be presented with both hands……and then there’s the question of how much money to give.
How Much to Give
Big corporations give a minimum of one month’s salary. Small business give a token of appreciation. Some foreign employers don’t keep the traditional at all.
This year I gave all full time staff 800 RMB, and 1000 to my Restaurant Manager. I chose this because eight is a lucky number in China. Although the new notes were carefully folded into the small red envelope, to me they looked disappointingly flat. I gave them out….watching faces for initial reaction. The envelopes are never opened in front of the giver, so there was no initial indication of whether my staff were happy or not.
How to Monitor Response
Staff pleased with their envelopes will post photos on social media. On returning home I logged into WeChat to see if any photos or comments had been posted regarding the red envelopes. I’ve included photos in this post.
One employee wrote (translated) “The boss’s red envelope is so happy. I will try harder in the new year.” another wrote (translated) “From the boss, a bigger New Year’s Red Envelope than last year.”
Tradition of the Red Envelope
Back in the Qin Dynasty, the elderly would thread coins with a red string. When you browse through the markets in China today, you still see coins with holes through the centre, ready for stringing. The coins are used to pay-off evil spirits to protect the young from illness and death. Once printing presses came into play, the red envelope emerged as a way to share the coins (now notes) and continue the tradition of protection.