What is Chinese Lucky Money?

Sheri Cyprus

Chinese lucky money is money that is traditionally given in red packages to young people during Chinese New Year. These red envelopes are called Hung Bao, and they are usually decorated with symbols of wealth and luck.

A local Chinatown may be a great place to find Chinese lucky money.
A local Chinatown may be a great place to find Chinese lucky money.

The amount of lucky money contained in the packages depends on the finances of the giver, the occasion, and the age of the recipient. The closeness of the relationship between the giver and the recipient also affects the amount of cash given. During Chinese New Year, older children usually receive more money in their red envelopes than younger children.

Chinese lucky money may be given in the form of coins.
Chinese lucky money may be given in the form of coins.

Lucky money given at weddings is often enough for the couple to buy a pleasant gift. At many Chinese weddings, the red envelopes are handed to the bride and groom but are not opened until later, as it is usually considered rude to open the money package in front of the giver. The bride and groom may take the envelope and thank the giver. Often, a relative or friend will be in charge of keeping the Hung Bao envelopes and this person may write the name of the giver on each red package so the wedding couple knows who gave each gift.

Red envelopes are used for Chinese lucky money as the Chinese consider red the color of luck and happiness. Most of the envelopes sold for the use of Hung Bao have Chinese symbols of luck and happiness on the outside. Some of these envelopes are very elegant and fancy with embossed gold designs on a rich red background.

Chinese lucky money may be given in the form of coins, bills or even a check. Children may use theirs to buy small toys and candy, while older children may use it for school supplies or even save some for tuition. Some employers give employees envelopes as a bonus or gift for Chinese New Year. All Hung Bao given in red envelopes is considered to work against evil.

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Discussion Comments



Perhaps this is why the money is gifted to young people, to ensure them that they've been appropriately dutiful to the elders and don't have to worry about danger. The flip side of Chinese custom was Mao's regime, which incited the young people to commit violent atrocities toward the relics of the past and wiser old people.


Riches and luck are recurring themes in Chinese folk religion and tradition. Avoidance of bad luck in the form of unrested ghosts and ancestors was very important, and ancestor worship was emphasized, as well as a particularly strong respect for older people, who are closer to dying. To offend an older person was to make it so that one day, you would have the bad luck of his angry ghost upon you.


Someone can find ways to deliver an indirect slight in numerous ways in Chinese culture. Direct confrontation is almost always avoided as a calamitous occurrence. Any sign of disagreement or dislike is always delivered indirect, even in a smiling manner. This cultural phenomenon can be intimidating and confusing to westerners, who prefer direct argument almost to a fault.


If you're considering giving Chinese lucky money as a gift to a Chinese person, be careful that you avoid using unlucky numbers or denominations, such as the number 4. The word for 4 in most Chinese languages sounds like the word for death, and is therefore avoided as unlucky. Other numbers are seen to denote better connotations. This also depends on regional beliefs, which makes it difficult to determine whether you are offending someone with your gift. Be sure to do your research.

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