Red Envelopes on an iPhone

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Background: Green, Purple, or Red Protection?

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The practice of using coins and rope for yasuiqian continued well into the Qing dynasty (1636-1912). Manchu writer Fuca Dunchong (1855-?):

Using a colorful rope money is woven to form a dragon shape, which is placed on the bottom of a bed. This is called yasuiqian.In Fuca Dunchong 富察敦崇, Yanjing Suishi Ji 燕京岁时记, entry 343-344.

As time went by and paper envelopes became more widespread, the tradition developed into coins being put into an envelope. The introduction of the red envelope was no surprise: red in Chinese culture has been and still is associated with joy and happiness, and is thus used for festive occasions.See C.A.S. Williams, Chinese Symbolisms and Art Motifs (Tuttle Publishing, 2006), 98

Nowadays, the tradition of protecting children from evil spirits has shifted towards a tradition of gifting money to family members. Though often given during Chinese New Year, red envelopes are also used to give money during weddings or other joyous occasions.

Before the red envelopes went online, the originally Chinese tradition spread throughout East and Southeast Asia. Often introduced by the Chinese diaspora who continue aspects of their culture abroad, the tradition of gifting red envelopes continued and transformed, so red envelopes can even be found in a tree as decoration in the Chinese-Indonesian Restaurant ‘De Chinese Pagode’ in the Netherlands (Fig. 3).

In Malaysia, the red envelope underwent one of its most significant changes. Where the color red is the go-to auspicious color in Chinese society, the color green has a positive connotation in Islam in Malaysia.See the article by Hwee Ling Siek and Chen Tien-Li, ‘Green Ang Pow and Purple Ang Pow in Malaysian Daily Life Practice’, p 3 Within Islamic communities in Malaysia, the gifting of green envelopes is linked to the Islamic concept of zakat, where every Muslim is required to give away 2.5% of their fortune.

The Indian community in Malaysia followed suit. In the 2000s, the Hindu Diwali celebration also saw an adoption of the red envelope, with the color of the envelopes being changed into purple due to its alleged link to being an imperial color.See Hwee Ling Siek and Chen Tien-Li, 4 As with the Islamic and Chinese tradition, these envelopes are given by the older generation to the younger generation.See New Straits Times, ‘The Diversity of Deepavali’

This way the tradition of gifting money in red envelopes developed further in nations where people met others with different cultural backgrounds, thereby further developing existing traditions and culture.