Chinese New Year's Red Envelopes Go Mobile

The Year of the Sheep is upon us! According to the Chinese zodiac, those of us lucky enough to be born in a Sheep year are tender, polite, filial, clever, attractive, hardworking, and kind-hearted -- yup, that is so me (also, vain). Happily the rest of you less-filial, less-clever types now get to enjoy the Sheep vibe for a year, and what better way to kick it off than handing out cash?

Besides setting off dangerous quantities of fireworks, probably the best-known tradition of the Chinese New Year is the giving of “hong bao,” the red envelopes filled with money (with quantities varying according to how filial, clever, and attractive you are). All around China and the overseas Chinese communities, red envelopes are bestowed on family, friends, and colleagues -- and especially kids, grandkids, and employees, for whom it often serves as a year-end bonus.

With China leading the world in mobile adoption, it’s no surprise the traditional red envelopes are migrating to mobile payment systems, allowing givers to send money to recipients far and near conveniently and securely. This year reports that users of the Alipay Wallet app, affiliated with e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba, sent $642 million in just 24 hours during the Chinese New Year. Meanwhile Tencent reported that 1.01 billion virtual red envelopes were sent across its Tenpay mobile payment service, without disclosing a dollar figure.

In a fun twist, also reports that Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma sent out 999,999 virtual red envelopes at random (the number 9, “jiu,” is considered lucky because it sounds like the Chinese word for “everlasting”).

In December of last year Ma revealed that over half (54 out of 100) of Alibaba’s e-commerce payments now come from mobile devices, up from 22 out of 100 in 2013. Interestingly, mobile payments are especially popular in rural areas, apparently because desktop computers are less common there.

Next story loading loading..