Mooncake sales wane

Mooncake sales wane

CHINA - For civil servant Jin Bo, Mid-Autumn Festival used to be an exhausting affair. The official at a county in Dali, Yunnan province would be swamped sending and accepting gifts during the annual holiday.

"I had to accept so many mooncakes as gifts that my family would have to eat them for breakfast for weeks," said Jin, who is not using his real name to protect his identity and keep his job.

Celebrations for Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Sept 8 this year, include eating the round-shaped confectionaries during family reunions.

The traditional mooncake gifts to mark the festival had gradually evolved into elaborately wrapped and expensive opportunities for people to present them to recipients whom they wished to build or maintain good relationships with.

That included businessmen trying to curry favour with officials like Jin.

Jin said that apart from accepting gifts, he also had to rack his brains to pick presents for his superiors during the festival - an "unwritten rule" among many government departments.

Some officials would also accept gifts from subordinates who used the gift-giving practice during the festival to try to get promoted, Jin said.

"In the past, there would always be some other luxurious products including imported wine, expensive seafood and even gold bars, packed into the boxes of mooncakes," he said, adding that he also got "surprises" in the gift packs for him.

He refused to disclose what kinds of gifts he had received in the mooncake boxes.

But with the central government's ongoing crackdown on graft, Mid-Autumn Festival is no longer a burdensome affair for those like Jin.

For Jin, the situation started changing last year after the Communist Party of China laid out clean-governance rules that banned government officials from buying or sending gifts at public expense during festivals like Mid-Autumn.

To push forward the rules, the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China's top anti-graft watchdog, last month also started asking the public to submit online whistleblowing posts to expose officials' misdeeds during the festival.

"The change has put me more at ease, because it has helped stopped unnecessary social activities," Jin said, who also welcomes the return of the mooncakes to their original role as a food to mark the festivities and celebrate Chinese values.

Amid the strict ban on luxurious gifts, most domestic supermarkets have also withdrawn expensive boxes of mooncakes from the shelves. A report by Nanfang Daily said on Aug 29 that moon cakes cheaper than 100 yuan (S$20.42) a box are most popular.

The public has lauded the disciplinary authorities' ban on buying gifts with public money during the festival. A number of public figures have similarly praised the efforts.

Chinese writer Feng Jicai said on Aug 28 that the mooncake is a traditional festival food and should not become a tool for corrupt officials to accept bribes.

"By adding luxurious products to the mooncake packs, we have lost a virtue of our tradition. Such misbehavior has also had negative effects on society," Feng said during an online interview by the top anti-graft watchdog.

 

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