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Traditional red envelopes get a personal touch

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)

09:21, February 07, 2013

The pieces of red paper found wrapped around yasuiqian, New Year gift money, are available in a new style this year, as name brands and families leave their mark on a traditional Chinese custom.

Companies in Guangdong province and Hong Kong traditionally hand out red envelopes to employees on the first working day after Spring Festival. Thanks to that tradition, Ruiyiju, an online store specialized in hongbao (red envelopes) on China's largest business-to-customer website, Tmall, has a big enough budget to hire its own designers to provide a customized service.

"Our biggest clients are companies," said a sales employee named Li at the Guangzhou-based online store. "They'd offer us their logos, names and preferences on design patterns in the middle of the year — usually June or July — because it would be too late if we received the order at the end of year."

Li said the trend of printing customized red envelops started only recently, but his clients already include Toyota Motor, China Mobile and Bank of China.

The lucky money, called "lai si" in Cantonese, is usually given out by the company head on the first working day, boosting morale and serving as an inducement for another productive year.

Do you want red envelopes stamped with your own name, even though you don't run a company and don't live in Guangdong or Hong Kong? Two booths at Longemont Shopping Mall, one of Shanghai's busiest shopping centers, can help you out.

This is the first year that the Hong Kong-based Joy's Card brought its red envelopes with 360 Chinese surnames printed on them to Shanghai. Shop assistant Lan Dongdong said sales volume tops 3,000 yuan ($480) a day.

"That's a lot for a small business like us, as the price for one pack (three red envelopes) is 10 yuan," said Lan.

"Red packets with surnames are the most popular ones in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, but Shanghai residents never saw them before," she said.

Tang Zhequn, 21, described the surname red packets as "out of the ordinary" and said he will use them to wrap New Year gift money for his nephew.

Joy's Card said it will soon provide English surnames translated into Chinese on its website to meet the demand of foreigners who are interested in Chinese culture.

Some fashion companies, meanwhile, wouldn't miss the opportunity to show off their understanding about Chinese tradition.

To start with, Zugzug, a Chinese fashion brand in Shanghai, came up with idea of a white-snake red envelope series.

"The white-snake-themed red paper bag has been the best-seller these days at our store," said Meng Jia, a Zugzug marketing director.

This is the first time the decade-old brand has provided a red paper bag featuring its latest collection theme. The bags, with gold-gilded auspicious words from the Chinese tale The Legend of White Snake on the front, sell for 25 yuan a pack.

"The coming year is the Year of the Snake, so we thought about the white snake legend," Meng said.

"But we didn't expect it to be so well-received. I guess some people are bored with giving money the regular way."

The bags are given as gifts for VIP members of the store and are also for sale.

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