Singapore's Exchange of 'Angpaos'

In the lecture of Economics and Exchange, we learnt about how different cultures maintain a system of exchange and how they view these exchanges relative to their cultures. The Hxaro exchange being “a delayed form of non-equivalent gift exchange” was a concept that may have seemed vastly different from our Singaporean culture, yet through the tutorials we find that such exchanges also occur in Singapore, namely the gifting of ‘angpaos’ or red packets during celebrations by the Chinese community such as Chinese New Year, weddings and birthdays.

In the exchange of ‘angpaos’, a social relationship similar to that of the Ju/’hoansi is established. In the same way that a culture of obligation and indebtedness is created and maintained in the Ju/’hoansi culture, there is an expectation for married couples in Singapore to distribute ‘angpaos’ to unwedded friends and relatives during Chinese New Year visitation. This expectation has been set by the older generations who have given ‘angpaos’ to the younger generation as a form of blessing, and the younger generation in turn have to give ‘angpaos’ to future generations.

However, unlike the Jo/’hoansi, Singaporean families try to keep the value of the ‘angpaos’ as equivalent as possible, with a different ‘angpao’ money range based on how close their relationship is with the recipient. When someone gives a small amount, such as $2-$4, that person would be thought of negatively, especially if you have given a much larger amount in return or if the person is much more well-to-do than yourself. This impacts the social relationship due to the change in perception of the person and hence, future exchanges of ‘angpao’ would be kept to an equivalent amount.

In the giving of ‘angpaos’ during Chinese wedding dinners, the concept of ‘face’, which is highly valued in our culture, comes into play. 'Face' is the concept whereby one’s self-worth is based on their appearance and status (Huang, 1987). Hence, the giving of ‘angpaos’ during wedding dinners in necessary in a culture where large wedding dinners are thrown at expensive hotels to show off and symbolise how wealthy and prosperous the family is. Hence, it is customary to give the wedding couple an ‘angpao’ to help the wedding couple cover the cost of the wedding dinner. This is such a significant culture that websites and magazines have come up with ‘angpao’ guides for wedding dinners to ensure that friends and relatives know the ‘market rate’ of having a wedding dinner at a certain hotel. An example of one can be found at:

For Chinese weddings, the closeness of the relationship also affects the amount of money one gives in an ‘angpao’. Although it is not expected of them, it is seen as a normal and understandable if close friends give more than the basic cost of the wedding dinner. It is also customary to give a small amount of money if friends are not able to attend the dinner. In general, I feel that the amount given in ‘angpaos’ for wedding dinner does not greatly affect the social relationships as whatever amount the couple receives would help them with the costs of the wedding dinner.

"Ang Pow Market Rate for Weddings."Wedding Tweets. N.p., 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 26 Oct. 2012. <>
Jo. "Wedding Ang Pow Guide 2010."Jo's Jumbled Jardinière. N.p., 24 Oct. 2010. Web. 26 Oct. 2012. <>.
"Chinese Red Packet: Sign of Prosperity."Chinese Red Packet: Sign of Prosperity. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2012. <>.
Huang Shuanfan. (1987). "Two Studies of Prototype Semantics:Xiao'Filial Piety' andMei Mianzi'Loss of Face',"Journal of Chinese Linguistics15: 55-89.

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