Ang pow functions
Written by Rachel

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Modern culture

Ang pow in modern Chinese culture frequently degrades into some sort of 'money train'. Family members are required to give cash gifts and a complex 'pecking order' algorithm is taken into consideration.
Gifts are then allocated relative to age, status, hierarchy and prestige. It is somewhat soulless

Old ways

Originally ang pow was about showing respect and appreciation. Let us say that you have wronged somebody and feel genuine sorrow for you actions... are a few words really adequate?
Is your apology sincere?

Prove it

In Asian culture it is not enough to say that you feel sorry. You must show it. A suitable ang pow says far more than wordsWords can be easily be hollow and meaningless

A small token

One of the most pleasant traditional uses of ang pow was to give a small gift on certain occasions. For example: you are invited to dinner and you take a bottle of wine.
That is ang pow.


If somebody helps you out and you want to acknowledge your appreciation, an ang pow is an elegant way to do this.
In Chinese culture a 100g gift of loose leaf green tea/matcha or ginseng was considered ideal. Nowadays, how about a book? Some Willie's chocolate?

An apology

The size of your ang pow is directly determined by the size of the offence. If you have really annoyed somebody, don't penny pinch.
You want the recipient to feel that you really mean your apology.

A show of sincerity

Really large ang
pow are only suitable for very rare situations. For example: indoor tuition or lineage student ang pow has always traditionally been a very large gift.
Sifu Waller had to give half a months wage in 1985 and then again in 1990.
This is not a mild undertaking. The purpose of such ang pow is to give a clear, unequivocal message - "This is how serious I am".


As a general rule, you should never just go out and buy something. This may be a monumental faux pas.
Should the ang pow be something that the recipient is indifferent about, the whole endeavour is ruined and you 'lose face'. It causes awkwardness all round.


If in doubt regarding the nature or size of an ang pow, you must ask a spouse, family or close friends for suggestions. Don't be coy. You need clear, tangible facts, not speculation or hints.
Never decide for yourself what is appropriate unless the ang pow is intended as a 'mild' gift e.g. a birthday present.


Skilful ang pow giving requires a special kind of sensitivity. If the gift is too large, the recipient feels embarrassed and wonders why you bought such a large gift.
If the gift is too small, the recipient feels awkward and and it may lead them to feel taken for granted.


Any ang pow should always cost you something. It must be an exchange of sorts. If the gift feels to be casual; a throwaway item... then this is probably how it will be received.

The joy of giving

If you have really made an effort to get just the right ang pow, it feels great. The time spent investigating, selecting and purchasing the gift is rewarding.
When you then present the ang pow you know that you have really made an effort. An earnest, heartfelt gift is always meaningful.

A mirror

Peter Southwood once said that ang pow serves a uniquely Taoist role in that it reveals our character, not necessarily to the other person but most undeniably to ourselves.
We are faced with the nakedness of our own character; are we generous in spirit? Are we reciprocal? Genuinely grateful? Or do we take advantage of other people?
These questions teach us what sort of person we are and present us with the truth of our character. The image/idea of ourselves versus the fact. This is who we are. This is how we behave.


Over the years many people have been the beneficiaries of Sifu Waller's generosity.
If Sifu Waller gives you something it's because he thinks you will like it, use it and appreciate it. He is not expecting anything in return. However, don't get confused here...
In Asian terms it would be excessively rude not to give Sifu Waller something to demonstrate gratitude.

Saving 'face'

In Asia the tradition of gift-giving is complicated. For example: the Japanese words for 'thank you' have a connotation of resentment. If somebody gives you something, you owe them.
Nobody wants to be the one who gives the lesser gift or isn't seen to be generous. There is nothing worse than taking somebody for granted or not reciprocating.
When someone asks for nothing in return, you ignore their request and get them something anyway. Otherwise you lose face and look like a fool.


In Asian culture, no one would conceivably accept a gift from their instructor without reciprocating. It would be a heinous display of ignorance and bad manners.
At the very least they'd send an Amazon gift voucher along with a brief note of thanks. Anything less than this would be considered incredibly ungrateful in Asia.

Why bother?

Many Western people struggle with Kung Fu ideas re manners. In a modern culture where fewer and fewer people even say please or thank you, it can feel like we're swimming against the tide or shouting in the wind.
A good way to explain the value of ang pow - think of what happen when a student gives a personal ang pow gift:

  1. The student looks good

  2. They show class, etiquette and most of all... respect

  3. The student feels good about themselves and the sort of person they are

  4. Sifu Waller notices the student's attitude  

Ang pow is a polite Asian way of showing good manners. Sincerity.

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Page created 8 July 2009
Last updated 27 June 20