China’s ‘red packets’ go digital over Lunar New Year

The Chinese tradition of giving gifts of money in red envelopes during the Lunar New Year has turned into big business for Alibaba and Tencent, with their electronic ‘hong bao’. (AFP pic)

SHANGHAI: More than 820 million electronic “red packets” were sent over China’s Lunar New Year holiday, leading social media platform WeChat said, as the centuries-old practice of exchanging monetary gifts increasingly goes digital.

WeChat, which is owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent, said the tally was reached over a six-day span during last week’s national holiday, and marked a 7% rise over the same period in 2018.

Money inserted or wrapped into paper “red packets”, or hongbao in Mandarin, are traditionally given out as a blessing during the holiday, a time when revellers exchange wishes for good prosperity in the year ahead.

But China has rapidly embraced a cashless society in which payments are made via smartphone apps, and electronic “red packets” have become hugely popular.

E-commerce giant Alibaba said more than 450 million users had participated between January 25 and February 4 in a game offered on its payment platform Alipay in which users can collect five non-monetary “blessings”.

Media reports said that was a 40% increase in users over last year.

Those who collect all five blessings can redeem them for various amounts of money.

And internet search giant Baidu said it gave digital “red packets” worth 900 million yuan (US$133.5 million) on February 4 during state-run broadcaster CCTV’s roughly four-hour Lunar New Year gala, a popular annual televised celebration.