Hongbao Madness: the Digital CNY Tradition

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While my Chinese friend and I were waiting in line at a chuan’r restaurant, I had jokingly told her that we should give each other hongbaos via WeChat. She agreed, saying that that night was the eve of the little Chinese new year (or the week before the Spring Festival).

Counting 3… 2… 1…, I received RMB 8.80 from her. When she opened the e-hongbao, she was surprised I gave her RMB 100 and quickly sent me another e-hongbao worth RMB 118. “Those numbers are lucky, Andy,” she told me, saying that 8.80 is an extremely auspicious number while 118 (yi yi ba) in Chinese folklore means I will have more money coming in this year.

In the office earlier that day, we had a session of WeChat Lucky Money exchange that became so crazy and funny we had to hold our mobile phones and wait for new digital red packets to be given by random colleagues.

This WeChat function called 微信红包 (WeChat hongbao) was introduced in 2014, and since then it has become a viral hit. In 2016 during the Chinese New Year holiday, it was reported that more than 8.08 billion red packets were sent on WeChat, with more than 420 million sent on the Lunar New Year Eve alone. The feature helped Tencent, the mother company of WeChat, to solidify its traction in China’s digital landscape. Alibaba followed suit and gave Tencent a run for its hongbao boom with fu cards ( or “good fortune”). This competition, I must say, has given the CNY tradition a digital makeover.

But in a surprising turn of events, a WeChat official said there won’t be any promotions for the feature this holiday season. Technode.com cited Zhang Xiaolong, head of WeChat, as saying “Red envelope has completed its historical task. There would be no red envelope promotions on WeChat for the coming Spring Festival,” as he addressed the WeChat Open Class 2017. It remains to be seen if this announcement would have an effect on the number of Lucky Money exchanges in the app this CNY holiday.

Well, I actually don’t care that much if Tencent or Alibaba won’t give any promotions as long as we ring in the second new year healthy and full of optimism. The fact that our friends and bosses give us these red envelopes is just thoughtful and lovely — and lucky too! But don’t indulge too much in red packets because they might become so addicting, just like some kids who refused to go to school without hongbaos.

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