Money or in-kind gift? Evidence from red packets in China

Marek Hudik*, Eddy S. Fang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


In Western societies, in-kind gifts are generally more common than money gifts. However, exchange of in-kind gifts potentially involves inefficiency. Several models have been suggested to explain the in-kind gift-giving practice as a rational behaviour under certain assumptions about givers' preferences and information and/or technological constraints. Unlike many Western societies, China has a long tradition of money gift-giving. So-called red packets are commonly exchanged. We argue that models developed to rationalise Western norms of gift-giving cannot fully account for Chinese gift-giving practices, and some Chinese practices even contradict existing theories. We collect Chinese household data through two surveys to establish stylised facts about gift-giving. We find that money gifts are commonly appropriate, depending on the occasion and relationship between givers and receivers. Moreover, for every occasion and relationship, money is more appropriate than gift vouchers. Finally, unlike studies focusing on Western gift-giving, our study finds no evidence that givers need to compensate receivers with higher value when giving money gifts rather than in-kind gifts. Our results are consistent with the view that the acceptability of money vis-à-vis in-kind gifts is governed primarily by social convention rather than information and technological constraints or the specific preferences of givers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-746
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • China
  • In-kind gifts
  • gift-giving norms
  • money gifts
  • red packets


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