Mooncakes fall foul of China’s austerity drive
Officials forbidden from giving pricey cakes as Moon Festival gifts
Mooncakes are traditional pastries offered as gifts during the mid-autumn festival, and often gifted in packages with mobile phones or cash vouchers as bribes
China has banned government officials from using public funds to buy mooncakes, traditional pastries offered as gifts during the mid-autumn festival, as part of President Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption.
Mooncakes come in extremely expensive and showy packaging, and contain fillings like egg yolk, sweet red bean paste, jujube date or lotus seed paste – occasionally with pricy abalone – and they breach new rules from the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Officials cannot use public money to send mooncakes as gifts or to arrange banquets that are not related to official duties during the festival, which falls on September 19th this year, the commission said on its website.
Where the corruption sneaks in is using mooncake gift packages with mobile phones or cash vouchers as presents which are basically bribes.
“The mid-autumn festival and the national day are approaching, we must resolutely put an end to using public funds,” the commission said, quoting the new president, and referring to the traditional festival spending spree on gifts, eating and drinking, tours and extravagant waste.
The annual frenzy of officials giving mooncakes has made the delicacies into a major industry. China has more than 10,000 mooncake bakers producing more than 280,000 metric tons per year, according to the China Association of Bakery and Confectionery Industry, and it’s a 15 billion yuan (€1.85 billion) business.
In the past few days, the leadership formally dismissed Jiang Jiemin, director of the commission overseeing China’s major state-owned companies, and jailed for 14 years a cadre, Yang Dacai, who grinned at the scene of a bus crash.
Keep market afloat
Most of China’s luxury hotels offer premium mooncakes, with special stands in the lobby selling them.
The flavours are either geared towards the Chinese palate, with tea flavoured cakes or salted duck egg yolk fillings, or to visiting Western tastes, which tend to be less challenging and contain fillings such as organic rice or coffee paste.
In a desperate bid to keep the market afloat, moon-cake sellers are offering receipts for office supplies to try and keep sales buoyant. This means that people can buy the mooncakes but pass them off as a legitimate office expenses.
“We can provide you with an office supplies’ receipt when you purchase mooncakes. What you need to do is buy just one pen when you pay for the moon cakes,” a salesperson in a Beijing shopping mall told CRI radio.
In a week when a report showed that diabetes was reaching epidemic proportions in China, the slowdown in mooncake sales will come as a relief to health professionals – each little mooncake apparently contains up to 1,000 calories.
The packaging is incredibly elaborate, too, with individual holders encased in boxes wrapped in more packaging, and another problem is the sheer waste of ditched mooncake boxes.