The latest Chinese New Year custom

When I was a student in Beijing, there would always be a lesson in our textbooks about the Chinese New Year. We learned that during that festivity there were some customs Chinese people always followed: cleaning the house on the last day of the year, making dumplings, having dinner with the whole family, watching the New Year Gala on tv, throwing firecrackers, giving red envelopes (红包 hongbao) with money to the children… It sounded similar to Christmas or New Year’s Eve in Spain.

I’ve actually never made dumplings with my mother in law. Maybe this year?


When I started working in China, I found out there was another side to Chinese New Year: companies and workplaces in general would arrange a party for all the employees, complete with dinner,  drinks, performances, awards and lucky draws. I blogged about one of these parties here three years ago.

Company new year party in 2015.


Now there is a new custom that has been added to both family and company events… the WeChat red envelopes! WeChat is a Chinese app similar to Whatsapp and also with a feed like Facebook, but with many more functionalities. One of the most useful is that you can link your bank card and pay in shops or transfer money to friends. And, being made by Chinese developers, of course you can also send red envelopes! You can choose how much money to send, how many people can open it until it is finished, and if you want the amount received by each person to be the same for all or random. This has been adopted into a “game” that is played in WeChat groups: someone sends a red envelope with limited random amounts, and the lucky one who gets the most money has to send a red envelope next time. Normally there are more people in the group than available envelopes, so to get something you need to be fast and tap the icon as quick as possible.

Fascinating, right? Most exciting game ever! (Irony mode off).

Red envelopes sent in a group. You have to tap the orange box to get them.


So now, in new year parties, when the dinner is about to end, people are not chatting to each other or looking for more drinks. They are glued to their phones, waiting for the boss to send an envelope with a lot of money. In these cases, whoever wins the most money doesn’t have to send another red envelope, of course. But some people do it as a way to wish a happy new year. If you are not using wifi, the red envelope sending business can totally drain your data, as people get excited and start sending thousands of gifs. Once I left our WeChat company group because I couldn’t stand the madness anymore!

One of the most popular gifs after a red envelope is sent: kowtowing and saying “Thank you boss”.

I hate that kowtowing gif when it is directed to the real boss. To me it feels demeaning and I imagine the boss dressing like an ancient king, standing on an elevated place and throwing gold coins to the mud so the villagers fight for them. I know, I think too much! The rest of the people just care about opening those envelopes and getting the money! Personally, I would prefer if the boss just gave each person a small quantity of new year money instead of making it a competition. But I’m just a weird foreigner! Chinese people love competing with each other and playing the red envelopes game!