2018-02-20 09:32:49

A collection of court cases involving “lucky money,” which children are gifted every Chinese New Year by their relatives, has social media users discussing who owns the small fortunes — the children, or their parents?

The red packets with cash, called yasuiqian in Chinese after their symbolic function of keeping children safe by suppressing demons during the year ahead, are a long-standing tradition in China. In most families the packets are symbolically given to the children, but the parents will keep the money as compensation for what they gave out to other people’s children.

However, the High People’s Court of Shandong province, eastern China, posted several legal cases on social media over the lunar new year holiday which clearly pointed out that legally, children own their lucky money.

In one case, a woman surnamed Shi decided to keep for herself the 45,000 yuan ($7,100) in yasuiqian she had given to her 11-year-old grandson Taotao over the years, because her son and his wife — Taotao’s parents — divorced and Taotao moved in with his mother. A judge, however, required Shi to give it back, pointing out that the money, which Shi had saved in her own bank account, had been deposited shortly after Spring Festival every year, and thus it must have been Taotao’s lucky money.

In another case, a university student from southwestern Yunnan province sued her divorced parents for refusing to pay for her college tuition, demanding they return her yasuiqian, a total of 58,000 yuan, instead. After mediation by the judge, her parents agreed to pay her 1,500 yuan every month to cover her tuition and living expenses until she graduates.

The cases surprised many Chinese. Hua Yanrong, mother of a 15-year-old son, told Sixth Tone that she thinks such rulings only make sense for divorced families. Her son received over 10,000 yuan in yasuiqian this year, which means she and her husband have also handed out a similar amount to other people’s children. “This is reciprocity,” the Shanghai native told Sixth Tone on Tuesday. “I always remind my son that his yasuiqian is ours, though we give him the right to spend it as he wishes.”

Though China’s laws don’t mention yasuiqian, the Shandong High People’s Court explained that, as with other acts of giving, it is akin to conveying one’s property to another person under a “gift contract,” which is covered by China’s Contract Law. In addition, parents may only help children store or dispose of their property for the benefit of the children, and as such, it’s illegal for parents to misappropriate their children’s lucky money. “There’s no doubt that yasuiqian is the children’s own property,” the court writes, though saying that parents could spend the money on buying insurance or extracurricular courses for the children.

Last week, two days before the new year, data from a personal finance app showing how much lucky money Chinese people in different regions hand out at Spring Festival created a buzz online. In eastern China’s Fujian province, the average red packet contains 3,500 yuan, most in the country. State news agency Xinhua then commented that giving yasuiqian had lost its original meaning because it is now fraught with comparisons. “Some people see Spring Festival as ‘spring robbery’ due to the burden of the money they have to hand out during the new year,” it said.

Compared with the rest of the country, the average yasuiqian gift in southern China’s Guangdong province is the lowest at 50 yuan. “For us, the purpose of giving red packets is more for happiness and luck — a way to enhance interpersonal relationships,” said Guangzhou native Zhang Ming, who gave out dozens of 50-yuan red packets this Spring Festival.

When she was little, Hua remembered that her parents spent her yasuiqian on buying her new clothes, new toys, and other things she needed. “But they never allowed me to decide how I could spend it,” she said.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: ‘Red packets’ are seen hanging at a temple in Beijing, Feb. 17, 2018. Wang Lidi/VCG)