Red Envelopes on an iPhone

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A Paper Envelope in a Digital World

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In the process of digitization, the WeChat and AliPay red envelopes have pushed the Chinese New Year tradition into the digital era. The tradition we know today has thus shifted from being money on a string to an intangible object. Nevertheless, its relevance and meaning have far from deteriorated.

In the case of the digital red envelope, a digital object can be seen as a continuation of an existing tradition. In the case of the WeChat and Weibo red envelopes, they can be distinguished from regular money transfers due to the personal, real-life relationships between sender and receiver.

When asked by the digital newspaper The Paper 澎湃新闻 about whether the digital red envelope might replace its tangible counterpart, scholar Tian Zhaoyuan 田兆元 of East China Normal University said that the digital red envelope can cross time and place, but cannot replace face-to-face contact. Though friends and family may send one another digital red envelopes, it does not mean that they replace the tangible ones.[For the whole article, see: The Paper, [‘作为一种“新年俗”,微信红包会取代纸质红包吗?’(https://cul.qq.com/a/20160208/012888.htm)]

In a time where travel is restricted due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the red envelope may win territory once more. Both forms of the tradition remain incredibly popular.