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February 23, 2015

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Gifts updated for digital age

THE traditional Spring Festival scene of children clad in red, kneeling down, kowtowing to their elders, who hand them red envelopes containing “lucky money” is now a rarity.

Nowadays, it is replaced by a tap on a mobile app, with no need to meet in person.

Ushering in the Year of the Sheep, people across the country could be seen shaking their cellphones in order to receive digital red envelopes.

Several Internet companies, including Tencent, Alibaba, Sina and Baidu, released red envelope games, hoping to grab a slice of the e-payment market, as users must link their debit or credit cards to their accounts.

While elderly relatives continued to send the traditional red envelopes, the younger generation exchanged e-envelopes.

Guo Lifeng, a migrant working in east China’s Zhejiang Province, did not go back to the central Hubei Province this Spring Festival.

However, he didn’t feel lonely as his family created a WeChat group to exchange red envelopes and blessings.

“Tradition is still tradition. But now it’s been injected with a new vigor, but the original customs are still there,” Guo said.

On Lunar New Year’s Eve on Wednesday, more than 1 billion people sent or received red envelopes on WeChat.

Alibaba’s Alipay saw 4 billion yuan (US$639 million) sent on that day alone.

There were about 649 million Chinese Internet users as of December, including 557 million that used their smartphones to connect to the Internet.

The festival has helped cultivate loyalty to certain Internet brands, said Hong Tao of Beijing Technology and Business University.

“Giving and accepting red envelopes is a way of socializing,” said Wang Dengfeng from Peking University’s psychology school.

“With only a smartphone, people can easily interact with each other,” he said.

“It is good that this old tradition has been modernized,” said Wan Jianzhong, an expert on folk customs and cultural anthropology at Beijing Normal University.

But he warned that people should not be obsessed with the amount inside the red envelopes, instead they should value the goodwill attached to them.

This year the number of SMS messages sent dropped markedly, tens of billions were sent during past Spring Festivals. The reason: SMS have a cost, but prepaid Internet access is free.

Traditionally, Chinese stock up on holiday essentials in the weeks leading up to Spring Festival, as most businesses will close for at least the first two or three days of the holiday.

In recent years, people have shifted from shopping at street fairs to buying from online retailers.

Young people, especially, favor online shopping for its convenience.

Meanwhile, certain officials can use this online trend to their advantage — to send their superiors discreet gifts, away from prying eyes.


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