Chinese children get rich during the Chinese New Year. A Beijing News survey of 90 primary and middle school students earlier this month showed that each of them received an average of RMB 4,867 in red envelops (hongbao).
It’s common for kids to show off their “wealth” when they return to school but in some extreme cases, kids can get so addicted to hongbao that they refuse to do anything without them, including going to school.
This includes 4-year-old Sha Sha (pseudonym) who, since Spring Festival, has needed to be placated by hongbao in order to go to school each day, according to the Shenyang Evening News (Chinese only). She even asked her school teacher for hongbao in return for playing with other kids.
Sha Sha might have developed this addiction after she started to receive thousands of yuan in cash during the holiday. In a single day, she could receive as much as RMB 10,000. She was happy with the fact that she could easily collect money from adults and started to ask hongbao for other things: getting up in the morning, taking a nap, getting newspaper for grandpa, and so on.
At first, the family thought it was fun to get Sha Sha to do anything by way of hongbao, but soon realized something was wrong when she started to demand bigger notes and did not listen to anyone without a red envelope.
When children start to receive ridiculously large amount of cash, the traditional goodwill of giving hongbao is lost. When I was young, I remember I had to carefully plan how to spend my money so I could have the new stationery, clothes, and toys on my wish list before school started.
The tradition has also become a burden for many Chineses, as it has been twisted to maintain ties and exchange favors between families and friends. There should be no surprise that government employees’ children receive most hongbao money.
As a Spring Festival custom, I gave my niece RMB 1,000 in a red envelop. She gave me a big kiss and immediately took out the notes to count, despite the fact that she is only 2 years old.
Like all the other kids, she wouldn’t know that her mum would have to return the favor and pay the same amount back to me by the time I have a child. By her understanding, what she received was definitely hers and no one else was supposed to take it away.
Some young minds even take a more serious step to defend their “fortune”. According to China Daily, a 22-year-old college student in Wuhan posted her disappointment on the Internet for not being able to control her hongbao money and asked for legal advice. The question attracted many replies including those from lawyers.
However, the reality is more complicated than the legislation, as was discussed recently by both local and expat parents on CCTV.
In the words of the Notorious B.I.G: "Mo’ money, mo’ problems…"
Photos: northernrays (Flickr) and Clemence Jiang