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        Warning: Red packets may not be so lucky

        0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, February 19, 2019
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        To give or not to give? That is the question facing many Chinese regarding hongbao, or red envelopes, during Spring Festival every year.

        Hongbao is given to visitors to the old town of Qiantong, Ninghai, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhu Xingxin/China Daily]

        Hongbao refers to small red packets containing money usually given by senior members of families to the young during Lunar New Year.

        The token given in hopes of good luck, health and success, can, in some cases, lead to trouble, upsets and even lawsuits.

        In Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, a court ordered the father of a 13-year-old boy to return "red packet money" given to his son.

        The son, surnamed Su, took his father to court after finding that his bank account, in which he had saved 3,000 yuan ($442) given to him as hongbao between 2014 and 2015, had been emptied in March 2016.

        However, the father argued that the money was mainly given by his side of the family, and said the boy's mother, whom he divorced years ago, was taking advantage of a change in custody arrangements to take the money for herself.

        Su's mother was awarded custody of the boy in April 2016 and he has lived with her ever since.

        According to the court ruling, hongbao money belongs to the recipient, regardless of his or her age. Although parents are entitled to help children manage their money, they are not allowed to spend or otherwise use it without the child's consent.

        Therefore, the court ruled in favor of the son and asked the father to give back 3,045 yuan, including interest.

        Ye Shibao, with the Etr Law Firm in Guangzhou, said: "Children enjoy civil rights, just like adults. Given that the red packet money belongs to the child, the father should transfer his son's money to the mother, who is the guardian, for her to manage on behalf of the boy."

        A divorce trial in Beijing has also just ruled that hongbao money should belong to a child, according to a release on Thursday from Chaoyang District People's Court.

        In this case, the couple had saved tens of thousands of yuan of hongbao money in the father's bank account since the birth of their 8-year-old son.

        When the couple decided to divorce, with the mother taking custody of the child, the father asked for the son's hongbao money to be divided as the couple's joint property, and took his proposal to the court.

        The father's claim was denied, with Ni Shixin, assistant to the judge in the Shuangqiao division of the Chaoyang court, explaining that although the money had been saved under the parents' names, it remained the asset of the child, and should not be divided upon divorce.

        Education funding

        There are some unspoken rules regarding how hongbao money should be given, which can vary from place to place.

        Jin Luyi, 10, received 12 red packets this year-the majority of them containing 500 yuan, a typical gift for a family in Shanghai.

        The girl said she had accumulated nearly 200,000 yuan in such money since birth and it was kept in an account under her name.

        "I haven't figured out what to do with it. Dad sometimes borrows some money from me, but he returns it. Maybe I can buy a couple of computers and create some small video games one day," she said.

        Jin's parents said they hoped the money could be used to fund their daughter's college education-a common desire in most families who are finding that schooling is becoming increasingly expensive.

        Lu Liping, Jin's mother, who is responsible for noting the amount her daughter receives in each red packet, said, "For every yuan she receives, we hand out an equal amount to others.

        "Usually it's 500 yuan among relatives, and the closest ones, such as grandfather and grandmother, give more in hongbao," she said, adding that instead of giving back such money, she sometimes also buys toys or gold coins as gifts instead.

        The essential rule in giving hongbao is give-and-take.

        The rule is so deeply rooted in the minds of Chinese, especially the older generation, that anyone failing to follow this code of conduct risks embarrassment and being thought of badly by family members who receive "inadequate" red packets.

        In one of her short videos featuring various social phenomena during Spring Festival, Papi Jiang, one of China's top streaming stars with millions of followers, shouted, "Beware of the red packet traps!"

        In the video, which mimics public safety tips from the police, the star and her co-hosts play relatives giving lucky money to each other's children. She opens a red packet, only to find that the money her son has received is 200 yuan less than she gave out. The voiceover states, "Never trade small for big, always respect reciprocal rules."

        The three-minute video also offers other advice for the red packet season.

        It tells children to beware when their mother says she will save their lucky money until they are 18, as it will probably be gone long before then. Adults are told to never trust relatives who tell them not to bring anything for the family dinner, as this leaves them open to the risk of being the only ones to do so and being labeled cheapskates.

        The video received more than 100,000 views on WeChat, with netizens saying it is "so true", and many fueling the debate with embarrassing anecdotes. One viewer recalled that when she received a red packet from a relative, her mother took the money, put it in another red packet and handed it back to the relative's child.

        Wang Yiqi, 29, an office worker for an internet technology company in Shanghai, returned to his hometown in Xunyang, a small underdeveloped county in Shaanxi province, for Spring Festival.

        "When I received lucky money in childhood, the red packet contained only 20 to 50 yuan. I would be super-happy if I found a 100 yuan note in the packet," he said.

        Wang added that in addition to money, food and clothes used to be given to relatives during the holiday. "Gradually, reciprocal gift-giving is disappearing, and I think people are just sending red packets as they consider it a festive ritual. Now, the amount of money being given is 200 yuan or more," he said.

        The increase may be nothing to the rich, but can be a heavy burden for those who are desperately poor.

        Lin Yufeng, a research assistant in cultural communication at Nanjing University in Jiangsu province, said he found some poor families spent nearly one-third of their 30,000-yuan annual income on giving out red packets on various occasions. Lin made the finding while carrying out research in the rural Shangrao and Jinggang Mountain areas in Jiangxi province.

        People there give red packets on many occasions, including weddings, children's one-month birthday parties, baby showers, as well as Spring Festival.

        For typical families, presenting this money is not a problem, as they will eventually recoup it, but for poor people, who are more often than not divorced or childless, these are "one-way red packets", Lin said. "But they tell me that they don't want to lose face or become isolated in a small society."

        This reflects the important role of the red packet in maintaining guanxi, or connections, in networking, Lin said, adding that the packets are only a form of gift, and the practice of exchanging presents is not uncommon in Western society.

        He recalled being a visiting scholar at the University of California in Los Angeles, when he was invited to a Thanksgiving party. The organizer's invitation email stated that guests should bring small gifts to exchange at the gathering.

        "Buying appropriate Christmas gifts is also a difficult annual task for Westerners," he said. "And with the concept of a market economy getting into more and more Chinese minds, bigger and thicker red packets are just something that come naturally. After all, it's easier for people to measure the value of the gift if it comes in cash."

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