The significance of the ang bao isn’t the cash held inside; it’s the red packet itself.

 

In Chinese and some Southeast Asian societies, a red packet or hng bāo (Mandarin) is a monetary gift given during special occasions such as weddings and, most notably, Chinese New Year. However, the significance of the ang bao isn’t the cash held inside; it’s the red packet itself. This is because the colour red symbolises good luck and prosperity in Chinese cultures. But how did the custom of giving ang bao originate, and how did it evolve to adapt to today’s modern world? Lets find out…

 

Origin

There are two legends surrounding the custom of giving out ang bao.

 

In the first legend, the Eight Immortals transformed themselves into coins to help an elderly couple save their son from a demon named Sui, who terrorised him when he slept. One New Year’s Eve, as Sui appeared to harm the child, the coins, which were given to the child, produced a powerful light that warded off the demon. This story has since encouraged parents to give their children money wrapped in red paper, hence the term yā su qan (money that suppresses Sui).

 

The second legend recounts the occasion when the son of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty was born. To protect his baby, the Emperor gave gold and silver coins to his concubines to be used as charms. Subsequently, this practice was adopted by commoners and they began giving their children monetary gifts.

 

How it evolved:
Today, ang bao giving has been extended to include other happy occasions, such as weddings, graduations, birthdays, etc. But we no longer give coins; only clean, crisp notes are given out. In 2014, the Chinese mobile app WeChat even popularised digital ang bao by introducing the ability to distribute virtual ang bao to contacts and groups via its mobile payment platform.

 

Outside of China, this tradition has crossed cultural and religious boundaries. It is being adopted in countries like Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore, by Malay Muslims as part of their Eid al-Fitr celebrations. But instead of red packets, green ones are used. Likewise for Deepavali, the local Hindu communities in Malaysia and Singapore have adopted the tradition by using purple or yellow envelopes in place of red ones.

 

Design

When we talk about the evolution of ang baos, it’s not just the usage and distribution that have changed to adapt to modern society. The design, too, has followed suit. Take a look at ang baos then and now:

 

1. Colour

Then: Traditional ang baos are mostly printed in red colour, with gold patterns and text hot-stamped on it.

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Source: The Finder

 

Now: Though red and gold are still used today for a more classic design, most modern ang baos feature many other vibrant colours such as pink, orange, yellow, etc. Some designs are even printed in full colour for a more playful look. However, the rule of thumb is to avoid using black and white as the primary colour, as they are often associated with funerals in Chinese culture.

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Source: Pinterest

 

2. Size

Then: Back in the days, ang baos were smaller in size, and notes were often folded in half.

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Source: The British Museum

 

Now: Modern ang baos are usually longer in shape just slightly bigger than an unfolded piece of note.

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Source: Pinterest

 

3. Paper

Then: Egg shell paper – a type of textured paper – were most commonly used.

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Source: The British Museum

 

Now: A wider range of paper coated and uncoated are used. Coated paper such as art paper works best for designs that are intended to be bright and attractive; whereas uncoated paper like woodfree gives a more muted and natural look.

 

4. Seal

Then: Traditional ang baos often come with the adhesive seals at the back.

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Source: The British Museum

 

Now: Modern ang baos have a die-cut line that enables the flap to be slotted in.

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Source: Pinterest

 

5. Finishing

Then: Gold hot stamping was mostly used.
Now: Hot stamps are still widely used today but with more colour options such as red, pink, blue, copper, etc. Spot UV varnish, die-cutting and lamination matt, gloss or velvet are also commonly used to treat modern ang baos.

 

6. Packaging

Then: Ang baos were commonly packed in clear polybags and sealed.
Now: Clear polybags are still common when budget is a constraint. But some ang baos are packaged in printed sleeves for an added edge.

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Source: Pinterest

 

Need some design inspiration? We’ve prepared some ang bao samples for you:

Ang Bao Mockup

 

If standard templates are not for you, have a chat with us. We can also help you design and print customised ang bao.