When I first traveled to China, I ended up spending 3 months learning Mandarin and making friends. Those first few months my friends had special occasions. One of them got married. One had a birthday. Another’s sister had a baby. I wasn’t sure what the custom was to offer congratulations. Should I get them a gift? Should I write them a card?
I learned that the best way to show congratulations to a Chinese friend in China is:
份子钱 (fènzi qián) gift money
Let’s break this word down so you can get the full meaning:
份 (fèn): portion, share;
子 (zi): noun suffix;
钱 (qián): coin, money.
份子 (fènzi): one’s share of expenses for a joint undertaking; as in buying a gift for a mutual friend. For example:
凑份子 (còu fènzi) Club together to present a gift to sb.
份子钱 (fènzi qián): gift money (on the occasion of a wedding etc); common charges.
Dàxué tóngxué jiéhūn, wǒ gěi le yì qiān kuàn fènzi qián.
大学 同学 结婚，我 给 了 一 千 块 份子 钱。
I sent 1000 Yuan as a congratulations gift to my university classmate for her wedding.
Wǒ jiéhūn de shíhou méi shōu péngyǒumen de fènzi qián.
我 结婚 的 时候 没 收 朋友们 的 份子 钱。
I declined gift money from friends when I got married.
The Custom’s Origin
“份子钱 (fènzi qián)” is a traditional Chinese custom that dates back to the Qing dynasty when the upper-class would use these (usually physical, customized, instead of monetary) gifts, especially for weddings.
When To Give It
Nowadays, If you have knowledge of “份子钱 (fènzi qián),” it will really put you ahead in building your relationships with your Chinese friends. It shows you have an understanding of general Chinese etiquette, but also shows you have a deeper understanding of traditional Chinese culture as well. You can give “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” for special occasions such as:
3. Baby’s birth
5. Acceptance Parties – these are when Chinese families celebrate the admittance of a child to University.
Giving “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” is a way for you to offer congratulations and show that you care about each of those significant life events. Instead of physical, customized gifts the Chinese usually just give money, since it is seen as a much more convenient way to express good wishes to the bride and groom, mother-to-be, etc.
Whenever you give “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” the recipient normally records your name and how much you gave him/her, so they can send “份子钱 (fèn zi qián)” back to you to express their good wishes when you celebrate a happy occasion. Normally, Chinese people wouldn’t give “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” valued less than what they received because they are “爱面子 (miànzi) keen on face-saving”very much. It is also considered impolite if you do give less “份子钱 (fènzi qián)”.
The Big Question: How Much Money Should You Give?
This is a great question. Overall, the value of the “份子钱 (fènzi qián) gift money” depends on the special occasion, your personal relationship with the recipient as well as the location in China. Every place is different — in more rural areas it might be less whereas in the big cities the expectation might be a bit more since the cost of living is higher.
Still not sure? The best thing you can do is simply ask the advice of your mutual friends who also know the host. They will give you an honest answer. When in doubt, follow the crowd!
1. Which of the following is true about “份子钱 (fènzi qián)”?
A. You can give “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” to the beggars when you meet them on the street.
B. You can send “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” to your Chinese friends on special occasions, such as birthdays, for weddings and for new baby births.
C. You can give “份子钱 (fènzi qián)” to the cashier when you want to buy some snacks.
Monica Hilton lives in the USA and has studied Mandarin for 8 years. She has been a student at eChineseLearning for six years and has passed HSK Level 6. She intends to study Chinese for the rest of her life.
General Chinese (Beginner Level)
General Chinese (Intermediate Level)