China’s Anti-Graft Drive Bites Into Holiday Season Mooncakes

Costly festive pastries are ruled out as government gifts

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Imaginechina / AP

Mooncakes are for sale at a supermarket in Zouping county, Binzhou city, in China's Shandong province, on Aug. 30, 2013

Mooncakes are the fruitcake of China, a dutifully received yet largely unloved holiday comestible. The pastries circulate around the Mid-Autumn Festival, a lunar celebration that this year begins on Sept. 19. But since China’s leader Xi Jinping unveiled a campaign to combat official graft and lavish living, conspicuous consumption has become a lot less conspicuous. Even the popularity of the poor mooncake — with its red-bean or lotus-seed filling or the more extravagant abalone, bird’s nest or gold-leaf varieties — has been affected.

On Aug. 22, the Chinese Communist Party’s central discipline committee prohibited the use of public funds to purchase mooncakes — and associated gifts — during this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. Vice Premier Wang Qishan, head of the discipline body, weighed in on the subject of the weighty, calorie-rich treats: “Decadent styles have polluted our festival culture in recent years with the sending of increasingly extravagant gifts.” Hu Bin, a sales manager for Gongyifu, a venerable mooncake maker in Beijing, tells TIME that the “sales of high-end mooncakes are severely affected … [because] the government is not allowed to [give] mooncakes as gifts.”

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Sometimes in today’s China, a mooncake is not just a mooncake. Elaborately designed boxes can contain not only the requisite four baked treats but also cash, jewels and other costly garnishes. Other mooncakes exist in paper form only, as vouchers that are traded for financial value in a kind of sweetmeat futures scheme. As might be expected, the trade in mooncake coupons is also suffering under Xi’s austerity program, say scalpers.

Still, despite the war on mooncakes, some Chinese spent the week stocking up — just not on the more expensive varieties that can cost up to $1,000 a box. Although a survey by the Southern Metropolis Daily showed that 40% of respondents were not planning to buy mooncakes this year, more than 90% said if they did purchase them, they would buy those that cost less than 200 yuan, or around $30, per box. Sales manager Hu confirms that “cheap mooncakes are still popular in Beijing.” But the problem of the mooncake’s often uninspiring taste? That’s something even President Xi may not be able to solve.

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

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11 comments
oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

Wumao are paid Chinese posters who shill on Western media comment boards. I wonder if they got their corrupt moon cakes this year? Soulless sell outs :P

呵呵
呵呵

老是发中文评论会不会被封号啊好虚啊。话说我居然能注册成功简直人品爆表有木有。

呵呵
呵呵

我大天朝反腐与你何干?Hurray for yolk mooncakes!

Mooncake
Mooncake

Author is clueless; mooncakes are delicious.

LacompaCida
LacompaCida

Gift of mooncake has advanced to the gift of negotiable moon cake gift certificates, bypassing the actual product.  There are middlemen who will pay cash for your gift certificates, and later negotiate with the issuers for cash.  Discounts at each transaction, of course.

duduong
duduong

The head of Chinese Communist Party Internal Discipline Department, Wang Qishan, just gave an interview this week. I was impressed with two things he said. The first is his declaration that, this being the early stage of his clean-up effort, his immediate focus is on treating the "symptoms" of corruption first. The second is that, although the people and media like seeing corrupt officials put on trial, catching the bad apples is merely a means to the end. The real goal is to transform the political culture. Overall, he sounds very serious and ambitious about his mission of turning the tide on corruption.

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

@Mooncake Moon cakes suck, but your daily dose of melanine which is an essential part of a mainland Chinese diet. wumao are paid Chinese posters working for the CCP

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

@duduong As a Chinese what do you think about these wumao paid Chinese shills that the Chinese government pays to post of western and chinese media comment sections?

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

@duduong His party is the root cause of corruption, it needs to be destroyed like a cancer cell

Mooncake
Mooncake

@oamuwtikcus @Mooncake 

lol it seems they've suceeded in injecting paranoia into the minds of some. You might be surprised to know that many people have been eating mooncakes that were not made in mainland China for decades. In fact - shocking! - there are people that celebrate the mid-autumn festival outside PRC.

duduong
duduong

@oamuwtikcus @duduong

Western freedom supposedly includes the freedom to lie, the freedom to be stupid and the freedom to be irresponsible. Judging from your behavior, China already has too much of these "freedoms". Yet, China's per-capita GDP is only 1/8 of the US and its population is aging fast. Its society cannot afford many liars, idiots and blowhards. Perhaps you should consider taking yourself off the list.