North vs South: Who Gives More in Red Envelopes?

By Billy Jiang, February 18, 2024

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As businesses across China resume operations after the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday, the tradition of exchanging red envelopes, or hongbao, resurfaces. 

Yet, beneath the surface, there exists a stark contrast in customs and amounts between the northern and southern regions of China.

In the southern province of Guangdong, red envelopes are affectionately known as li shi or lai see, symbolizing good luck and prosperity. 

Beyond the festive season, giving li shi is a common social custom, be it for weddings, funerals, or chance encounters. 

Here, the amounts are modest, ranging from RMB10 to RMB50, reflecting the tradition of emphasizing goodwill over financial burden.

Data from a third-party research organization reveals that in 2023, the average red envelope amount in Guangdong was a mere RMB9.2, significantly lower than the national average of RMB38.

In contrast, northern regions, especially in North China and the Northeast China, adopt a more lavish approach to red envelopes. 

During the Spring Festival, the amounts often round to whole numbers, with RMB100 or RMB200 being common, and sometimes reaching thousands or even tens of thousands. 

For northerners, the size of the red envelope often correlates with the closeness of the relationship, with closer relatives receiving more generous gifts.

Whether it's the li shi of the south or the red envelopes of the north, both signify the transmission of emotions and cultural heritage. 

In an era of material abundance, the monetary value of red envelopes may have diminished, but the sincerity and blessings they carry remain paramount.

READ MORE: Explainer: Why Chinese People Give Red Envelopes

As we embark on the new year, we extend our wishes: Happy New Year!

Have you received any red envelopes this year? Feel free to share your special experiences with us. For more insights into Chinese culture, follow our WeChat account, ThatsGBA.

[Cover image by Billy Jiang/That's]

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