22 March 2019
62/365 - Good health and good fortune

Wedding bombshell: How much lai see is too little?

Chinese wedding banquets are a kind of feeding frenzy, depending on the social status of the bride and groom. Guests are expected to enjoy themselves and come away full.

But there’s one small matter: You can’t go to a wedding banquet and come away full without leaving something of yourself behind — in a little red packet — when all is said and done. And it’s not about economics. It’s about custom.

The more you know either of the newlyweds, the higher the expectation.

So when a man from Jiangsu province left the princely sum (to him) of 100 yuan (US$16), he was roundly criticized by the bride for insulting her husband, supposedly his close friend.

When the man complained on a local forum that he hardly knew the groom (okay, he was a colleague for a short time), he touched off a social media firestorm, according to

The post triggered a heated discussion in a couple of hours and attracted more than 200 replies.

So how little lai see is too little?

It depends on where you are. In certain parts of the mainland, particularly in more affluent coastal areas, the going rate is about 600 yuan. In others, it’s a tad lower, but in some rural areas, people may give several thousand yuan to show off their wealth.

In Hong Kong, the limit is HK$2,000 if either of the couple is a government official, according to the law.

Non-officials go by rule of thumb but it’s uncommon to give HK$2,000 or more, lest the gift come across as a down payment for future favors. Also, the receiver might feel compelled to pay back the gift.

The general standard is HK$600 to HK$800 for receptions in Hong Kong-style tea houses and HK$800 to HK$1,000 in four or five-star hotels.

But among business associates and wealthy families, the largesse can be as much as a red packet will fit, if the gift is not too big to stuff in it (like a car, or an apartment perhaps?).     

Bottom line: give neither more nor less.

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EJ Insight reporter

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