To give or not to give - that is the tricky New Year question

Lai see requires coming up with some ingenious ways to get around the ban on greasing officials' palms

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 2:56am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 February, 2014, 2:56am

The Lunar New Year holiday is meant be a time of happy family reunions, but this year more people than usual have been troubled with a vexing issue, according to the mainland media - how much money should be given as lai see?

The question is always fraught as nobody wants to look mean in front of their friends, colleagues and relatives.

But this year the problem was complicated by Beijing's crackdown on officials accepting cash and other goodies.

Several media outlets have reported that people wanting to ingratiate themselves with powerful politicians and bureaucrats are getting round the ban by giving lai see to officials' children.

Hence, the Beijing Times reported, one youngster was handed a red packet containing 10,000 yuan (HK$12,700).

The newspaper commented drily that the move did appear to breach the anti-corruption laws as it clearly involves a "transfer of interest", but removing the loophole could prove tricky.

The Shanghai-based news website Eastday.com weighed in, saying handing large amounts of cash as lai see to cadres' children was a grey area, but still amounted to bribery.

"Presenting gift to leaders is not allowed and taking them to a luxury banquet is also banned, but as leaders are still powerful, those under them are still struggling with the question of whether to give to them in some way," the commentary said. "The root cause of the problem is that society has not adopted a 'zero tolerance' attitude towards corruption."

But spare a thought for officials.

The Beijing Evening News reported that one nine-year-old girl formally complained to her school counsellor because her father, a civil servant, had told her relatives not to give her lai see.

"I lost a lot of money because of this," the child said. "My father and mother have to compensate me."

A high school student described his civil servant father as "useless" for restricting his lai see and said his parents must give him 100 yuan pocket money every day to compensate him.

One government official in Jiangsu province got around the problem of unwanted cash being proffered via his offspring, according to the Beijing News.

He let his son keep the money but refunded the cash to the people who gave it, out of his own pocket. As much as 3,000 yuan was in some of the envelopes.

But for those who do not want, or need, to curry favour with officials or bosses, how much to give remains a headache.

The Dazhong Daily in Shandong told of a government worker's embarrassment as he struggled to do right by everybody.

He gave 200 yuan to his children and 500 yuan to his parents, only to be trumped by his brother, who gave his daughter 600 yuan and his parents 1,000 yuan.

A report on the state-run Economic Daily's website showed that many internet users have decided to drop any shyness and declared on Sina Weibo how much cash they raked in via lai see.

One said their baby had received 51,000 yuan in five days and that "we'll go to auntie's home soon". Another person posted: "I have got 5,380 yuan and I can probably get several hundred yuan more."

The Dazhong Daily, for one, is not amused. "The Lunar New Year should be a happy season for family reunions, but it has got distorted because of the red packets," a commentary said. "They should be used to give a blessing, not for making comparisons."

Still, some people want to put lai see to good use.

The Chutian Metropolis Daily reported that a businessman in Xianning , Hubei , gave 300,000 yuan to his employees. The condition was they had to give their share to their parents. Those who did not, he said, would be sacked.