What you need to know about Chinese New Year and business etiquette

What you need to know about Chinese New Year and business etiquette

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Whether you are new to Asia or been living here for a long time, there is always something interesting to discover about the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar.

Usher in the celebrations with Isabelle Larche, Managing Director, Timeo-Performance, and understand the background, traditions and rituals.

The 15-day celebration of the Lunar New Year or Spring festival is not a purely private affair. So what can you expect at work? Read how to bond best with your Chinese colleagues and impress by excelling at Lo Hei during business lunches.

Who gives a Hongbao or Ang Pao (red packet in Mandarin / Hokkien)? And what is the going rate in 2019? What to say at Lo Hei? What to bring if invited to a colleagues’ home?


The Chinese New Year of 2019 falls on Tuesday, 5 February and lasts to February 19. As the festival is based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the dates change every year. The Lunar Calendar is associated with the movement of the moon. Furthermore, it is associated with the 12 animal signs, the Zodiac signs. Every 12 years are regarded as a cycle.

Not sure which Zodiac sign you are? Find it out here. Be aware that if you share your Zodiac sign, you are disclosing more than your birth month. Recent years of the Pig are: 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019.

Day-to-day schedule 

The preparations have already begun. Have you noticed long queues at banks? Large containers in front of your condo? Surcharges at hair dressers? Everyone is getting ready for the new year. Therefore, you see queuing for crisp, new two dollar bills for the hongbaos, spring cleaning as well as getting ready to welcome family and friends at your home. Take the opportunity to get in conversations with your colleagues celebrating Chinese New Year about their preparations.

Lion dance

Associated with good fortune, the lion dance is a common feature at many celebrations in Singapore. In Singapore, lion dance troupes often perform at festive occasions such as Chinese New Year as well as for openings of stores and offices throughout the year. It is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture and other Asian countries in which performers mimic a lion’s movements in a lion costume to bring good luck and fortune.

Prosperity toss Lo Hei 

Chinese New Year festivities often involve the practice of many traditions. Food is probably one of the most important part in the celebrations. Many companies in Singapore take this chance to reconnect with their clients over a hearty meal.

Another key tradition in Singapore is the tossing of the yu sheng for good fortune. “Lo Hei” in Cantonese, where 捞 “lo” (literally mixing) means “tossing up good fortune”, refers to the ritual adopted in Singapore. It involves tossing the yu sheng and saying auspicious phrases before eating it. It is popularly believed that the higher the toss, the better your prospects and fortune in the year ahead.

Auspicious phrases

Before the tossing begins, the dish needs to be prepared. Generally, one person adds the ingredients one by one in a specific order. The names of the used ingredients evoke the wishes of luck and prosperity. With the plate placed in the middle, diners stand around the table to toss the ingredients whilst exchanging blessings and words of prosperity.

There can be up to 12 steps with according Chinese phrases which can be hard to memorise. Especially, if you do not speak the language. The most important phrases are “Gong xi fa cai” (beginning) and “Lo Hei” or “Huat ah” (tossing).

Five Lo Hei phrases to impress 

After the Yu Sheng is on the table, everyone offers Chinese New Year greetings.

gōng xǐ fā cái  恭喜发财 Meaning: Congratulations on the new year, may you have abundance wealth.

wàn shì rú yì 万事如意 Meaning: May all your wishes be fulfilled.

When spices are added, usually at step 3:

zhao cai jin bao 招财进宝 Meaning: Attract more money and bring in treasures!

At the end, when tossing the food:

Huat ah!          发啊!            Prosperity  Lo hei              捞起!             Tossing luck! 

Step-by-step guide to Lo Hei



Key ingredients and what they represent

  • Carrots – Represent good luck.
  • Green radish – Represent eternal youth.
  • White radish – Represent good job opportunities in the coming year.
  • Raw fish – Symbolises abundance and prosperity.
  • Pomelo – Represents luck.
  • Crushed peanuts – Is a sign that your home will be filled with many valuable possessions.
  • Sesame seeds – Represent the hope that your business will flourish.
  • Golden crackers – Symbolises wealth.
  • Plum sauce – A key component that binds the salad together, it represents stronger ties among family and friends.
  • Pepper and cinnamon powder – Signify the wish for wealth
  • Oil – Often drizzled onto the salad in a circular motion rather than poured over. This is to symbolise that money will come from all directions.

Being invited

If you are invited to a Chinese friend’s or colleague’s house, you will need three things. A pair of Mandarins to exchange with your hosts, hongbaos for attending children and wearing clothes in auspicious colours.

Red is the go-to colour for Chinese New Year. It symbolises fortune and luck and according to old wives’ tales, wearing red is believed to scare away spirits of bad fortune. However, if you do not own red clothes, opt for bright colours. White or black are taboo as symbolic of mourning and death.


You hand out the hongbaos based on the hierarchy from senior to junior. In general, hongbaos are given to children and unmarried adults. But how much to give? For colleagues’ children most listings suggest S$8 to S$16. There is no strict rule to follow as giving a hongbao is a sign of goodwill and blessings for the new year. Whatever amount you decide on depends on your financial situation. This article gives more information about how much to give in 2019.

More importantly, be aware that odd numbers along with the number four evoke negative association and bad luck. Another key point is to hand out the hongbaos with both hands. With the hierarchy in mind, do not let your children hand out the hongbaos.

In some companies, managers hand out hongbaos to the employees. It is always best to ask about the traditions in your specific organisation.

We wish you a successful and prosperous Chinese New Year!

This article was first published on Timeo-Performance's website.

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