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'Red-package' money gifts a source of tension
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-09 22:59

When the week-long Spring Festival holiday ended, many Chinese parents were left with a headache: what their precocious children would do with the "red-package" money gifts they received during the Lunar New Year.

Gao Mengmei, mother of a four-year-old boy in Beijing, has mixed feelings about the money gifts. She recently found 700 yuan (US$84.50) hidden in the pillow of her son. It was given to the little boy by her relatives for the Lunar New Year.

It is one of the oldest Spring Festival traditions for adults to give money to children to wish them prosperity. In return, children wish their elders longevity.

They also used to hand over the money to their parents.

"We used to collect his Lunar New Year money gifts after the Lantern Festival (the festival, falling on January 15 on the lunar calendar, officially ends Spring Festival celebrations for many Chinese). We thought he had turned in all of his (money gifts) for this year, but we were wrong,'' said Gao.

Shen Xinping, mother of a 13-year-old girl in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, is annoyed by her child's attitude towards the Spring Festival tradition. Her daughter Jiajia has refused to lend her money in view of her "poor credit record.''

"Jiajia said she could only lend me her Lunar New Year money gifts this time after I pay back her gifts from last year,'' Shen said.

But Jiajia said the money gifts are her only income and she needed them to socialize with her classmates. "Otherwise, I shall be disgraced,'' she said.

These mini-wars between parents and children are all touched off by the Lunar New Year money gifts. Gao and Shen are far from the only Chinese parents facing this dilemma.

As a result, some Chinese parents plan to persuade their children to turn down their Lunar New Year money gifts. Most of these parents also believe the gifts create bad habits such as squandering in their children.

But Meng Xuemei, a professor with the Chengdu-based Sichuan Normal University, said Chinese parents should have greater confidence in their children and themselves.

Meng admitted that ever-increasing money gifts -- a direct reflection of improved living standards -- have caused problems, especially when frittered away on Internet games, clothes, cosmetics and restaurant banquets.

But people should not give up eating for fear of choking, she said. "There are many successful examples where parents have helped their children make good use of the money, while maintaining a good parent-child relationship,'' she said.

Moreover, this can provide parents with a good chance to improve their children's financial knowledge.

"Compared with foreign children of a comparable age, Chinese children generally possess a poorer understanding of finance. For example, few of our children have heard of such words as interest rates, exchange rates and tariff rates before the age of five,'' said Meng.

Now that the young children of today have a stronger sense of self-determination, people cannot simply copy the way their own parents taught them. Meng urged parents to instead develop new ways of educating their children to meet new situations.

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