Guides & Resources

Diversity Essay: Traditions of Giving and Sharing in Asian Cultures

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The views expressed herein are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or the organizations with which the authors are affiliated.

By Janice Gow Pettey, CFRE, Sacramento Regional Foundation
AFP Golden Gate Chapter

Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean traditions of giving and sharing can be unique or have similarities to practices in other cultures. All cultures have different constructs of reality that include beliefs and practices relating to philanthropy. This article highlights and defines some of the customs involving giving and sharing within Asian cultures.

Chinese customs of giving and sharing

Baai nihn: Translates to paying homage to the lunar new year. Term refers to visiting family and friends during the New Year celebration and bringing gifts of food.

Bong: Gifts of financial aid and material support to new immigrants.

Daaih sang yaht: Celebration of major birthdays (50 and above).

Fui gam; Baahk gam: Gift of money given by extended family to immediate family of deceased to defray funeral costs.

Chih-shin gam: Money sent back to hometown or village by those now living in the United States.

Jaahk fahn: Custom of giving something back, usually food, to visitors who have come to baai nihn.

Jam chah laih sih: Tea ceremony honoring newlyweds where the bride and groom pay respects to their elders and those of higher status. Bride will pour tea for guests and very generous gifts will be given to the bride. At one time, heirloom jewelry was given. Now gifts of new jewelry of gold and jade are common. Other gifts include watches and new clothes for the groom, money for a down payment on a house, and furniture.

Laih sih: Gift of money given in red envelope given on special occasions like lunar new year, for birth of baby, wedding.

Laih sih (funeral): White laih sih is given when one enters the funeral service; red laih sih is given on departure. White is the color of death, and red symbolizes hope and good fortune. These laih sih are generally small amounts of money wrapped in the appropriate color envelope and given to all guests at the funeral.

Wui: Rotating "credit associations" where each member makes small monthly payments and the "pot" is disbursed to a different member each month. Trust plays a major role in wui.

Yeung ga: Practice of shared responsibility among siblings or extended family for maintenance of a family. Often to support elderly family members or newly arrived immigrants.

Filipino customs of giving and sharing

Abulay: General religious donations, donations to family of someone who has died, typically to defray funeral costs.

Barangay: Villages and neighborhoods in the Philippines. Filipinos practice support to those living in their barangay or to those who have immigrated from the same barangay.

Pabandeha: Reciprocal gift from infant's parents to godparents as appreciation.

Pabuisit: Goodwill money given to visiting infant.

Pahinhaw: Custom where godparents throw coins to guests at weddings.

Pakimkim: Custom where godparents give jewelry, clothing, money or food at baptisms and weddings.

Tulong: Help given to those in need, which is practiced within the family and nuclear community. Not always a gift of money; can be food or lodging given to relatives who have just arrived from the Philippines.

Japanese customs of giving and sharing

Gobutsuzen: Funeral donation to the temple.

Hodokoshi: Charity

Kenjinkai: Early prefecture associations in Japan. In the United States, kenjinkai provided assistance to newly arrived immigrants in the form of food and lodging, sponsored fundraising activities to help new arrivals get settled.

Issei: Continued the practice of sending contributions back to Japan for major disasters there. Following the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area, Japanese nationals gave more than $10 million (primarily in individual gifts) for relief efforts. (Note: These gifts were sent for general use, not directed to Japanese Americans.)

Koden: Giving money to immediate family of deceased. This is a Buddhist practice of compassion. Monies can be used to defray funeral costs or to establish a memorial fund in the name of the deceased. Gift is generally presented at the funeral in a special white envelope with black and white bands. There is a table near the entrance, and a designated person records the name and amount of the gift. Koden is a reciprocal practice.

Nenshimarwari: Visiting elders and family at New Year.

Ominmai: Gift of money in sympathy, generally when someone is ill. Can be used to pay medical costs or provide general support while one cannot work. Also refers to gifts to those who are victims of natural disasters.

Orei: Monetary or material expression of thanks for koden.

Otshidama: Gift of money to children at New Year, presented by an elder to child in white envelope with red band on it.

Senbetsu: Gift given when someone is moving away or going on a trip.

Korean customs of giving and sharing

Chee won kum: Interest-free "loans" given to friends and family. Considered to be a social courtesy.

Chin mok hoe: Social club; a source of kye groups.  Also includes business associations. In 1988, when a Korean owned grocery store in New York City was boycotted by members of other ethnic groups, the Korean Greengrocer Association members sent money and stock to keep the store going. After the 1992 Los Angeles riot, Korean business associations collected money to help victims.

Cho pa il: Gifts of money given in honor of Buddha's birthday; used to buy lanterns so that wishes will come true, and to honor ancestors.

Cho ul kum: Money given at funeral, used by immediate family to defray expenses.

Chul san: Support given to family of a newborn.

Dol: Baby's first birthday.

Hwan gap: Celebration of 60th birthday. A significant celebration involving immediate family, neighbors, church, and friends. Gifts of money are given to the individual, or gifts may be given to organizations in honor of the individual.

Kye: A traditional rotating credit group. A way of acquiring enough money to start a business.

Mo kum: Collecting money to help others.

Paek il: Celebration of baby's first 100 days. Money and other gifts are given to parents for the baby.

Yong don: Occasional or pocket money sent or given to parents. Similar to an allowance, viewed as supplemental income. Most parents live with their adult children, and giving of yong don is widely practiced in the Korean community.


Janice Gow Pettey, Cultivating Diversity in Fundraising (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001).

Bradford Smith et al., Philanthropy in Communities of Color (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999).

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