Origins of Chinese New Year red packets: All thanks to ancient China demon

It's all about the symbolism.

Joshua Lee | February 02, 2018, 12:00 PM

Red packets are a staple of Chinese New Year.

We love them when we receive it and loathe them when we've got to start giving them out.

But many of us do not know how it came about.

Legend has it

The legend of red packets goes something like this:

In ancient China, a dragon-like demon terrorised children by touching their heads and causing them to fall sick, and sometimes, die.

To save one of these children from an untimely fate, the Eight Immortals transformed themselves into coins for an elderly couple.

Other legends say that the Eight Immortals gifted mankind with guards in the form of eight coins that were threaded together.

The couple wrapped the coins in red paper and placed them under their child's pillow as a talisman to protect him from the demon.

This explains why red packet money is also called 压岁钱.


Technically, 压岁钱 (yā suì qián) literally means age-suppressing money (wouldn't it be great if money actually did that?).

However the character "岁" sounds like "祟", which means demon, which is derived from this legend.

Over time, the practice of wrapping coins in red paper gave way to envelops with notes.


Plenty of symbolism

This custom is, of course, fraught with symbolism.

The Chinese believe red to be an auspicious colour because it represents joy and luck. Money is always given in even denominations of two because of the belief that good things come in pairs (好事成双).

Via Quartz.

Lastly, the amount given is not important since the giving is a symbolic gesture (but who are we kidding, right? The lesser you give, the higher you run the risk of being the miser of the family).

Today, with the advent of technology, people are even using mobile apps to send red packets in China.

Who know? Maybe that might catch on here in Singapore soon.

Then there will be an electronic ledger of who gave the most and the least over time, further reinforcing other Chinese customs, such as "saving face".

WeChat red packet functions. Via LinkedIn.

Watch the video below:

Top images via and China-underground