Just finished a training session I volunteered to do for the PR team at Ogilvy Beijing on dealing with the foreign media, since I used to be part of it. I was asked about basic differences between foreign reporters and Chinese reporters, and with some equivocation spoke of the "ethics gap," citing as a mild example the "travel money" any business throwing a press conference is expected to cough up to attending Chinese reporters--usually 300 RMB. Foreign reporters, of course, have rigid ethical standards: most won't even let you buy 'em lunch, and will certainly refuse the hongbao, right?
Wrong. A couple of the women in session piped up: "What do we do when the foreign media demand red envelopes?" Apparently, in more than one instance, reporters from western television news stations (who I'll prudently avoid naming) hounded these poor PR women for money at press events."Why do they get them and we don't?" they demanded. The women were pretty worked up as we discussed this.
What to do? I told them they should politely tell them that it's our understanding that your boss would fire your greedy ass just for asking.
Full disclosure: Occasionally, there's schwag that's just too good to pass up. I'm only human. Never taken a hongbao but I was at the launch party for Google in Beijing when they revealed their new Chines name, Guge (谷歌), and they were giving the Chinese press these awesome Google Lava Lamps. I had to have one. Fortunately, some Chinese reporter left his, so I snagged it. But then, in the small session with Eric Schmidt that followed, I had to endure the disapproving glances of the likes of Phil Pan (Washington Post), Joe McDonald (AP), Jason Dean (WSJ) and Mure Dickie (FT). Those guys just wanted a Lava Lamp too, I'm sure.