Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Fewer Red Letter Days In China

In China’s red envelope culture, gift-giving has long been at the core of corporate and public life.  By tradition, the practice is expected at important business meetings, dinners and celebrations like New Year.  Elaborate conventions cover the amount that the red envelope should contain, or the type and value of gift that is considered appropriate.  Senior people get the most expensive presents, and it is considered a serious faux pas to give the same thing to people of differing ranks.

So when average spending on gifts by China’s elite goes into a 15% decline in a single year, there is clearly something interesting and unexpected going on.  A report from the Hurun Research Institute last year indicated that the wealthiest Chinese cut their gift expenditure by one-sixth, and that the amount lavished on specific individuals has fallen by something like 25%.  A survey of almost 400 people in mainland China with personal wealth of $1.6 million US or more shows a “dramatic” decline in gift-giving.  Chanel accessories, Hermès scarves and luxury watches are giving ground to more modest and restrained presents, like Chinese calligraphy.

What would account for this incipient reversal of a long-standing convention?  Are China’s wealthy feeling the economic pinch?  The Chinese economy may be slowing, but it is still pegging a substantial 7% growth rate in 2015, an expansion most nations would view with envy.  Unsurprisingly, the Hurun Report actually found that well-to-do Chinese felt a rising sense of confidence in their country’s economic prospects. 

So why the abrupt shift away from gift-giving?  The experts conjecture that the impact of anti-corruption initiatives is having a greater effect than anticipated on Chinese public life and corporate behavior.  The perceptual line dividing present-giving from offering outright bribes and inducements seems to have moved.

If so, this could represent a highly significant socio-cultural shift in the world’s second-biggest economy.

What’s in the red envelope this year?  Some really nice calligraphy...

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Asia / Pacific Product – Business / Professional