Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Bribery? It's a piece of mooncake
'Tis the season of giving in China, and the fancy boxes may contain more than delectable treats
By Grace Ng, China Correspondent

A Beijing department store is selling mooncakes made of gold ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival. They are as big as the real thing and come in 30 designs. -- PHOTO: CHINA FOTO PRESS

BEIJING: Families in China celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival today even as the government continues its struggle to contain the unsavoury side of the industry.

The multibillion-dollar sector has been infused with extravagance, scams and corruption in the past decade.

As mooncake sales this year jumped 50 per cent from last year to hit 14 billion yuan (S$2.8 billion), the authorities are worried that the festival has become just an excuse for bribery.

The fancy boxes have been known to contain more than just pastry. Gold bars, designer watches, fine wine and even gold Buddha statuettes have all been found packed next to the mooncakes.

In July, Beijing issued rules to improve pricing and quality and to force mooncake makers to cut down on packaging.

The government has been trying to control the industry since 2004, when it arrested officials who took advantage of the festival to accept and offer bribes.

But excessive mooncake-giving persists, with shops taking their businesses to the less-policed cyberworld. They thrive as mooncakes are no longer just for consumption.

This is especially the case for corporate bodies, both local and foreign, which see the festival as the most important season of giving in China.

Mr Sheng Tao, 46, a Beijing-based manager, said his firm spent 16,000 yuan on 160 boxes of mooncakes for clients.

'We need to do this every year to build business guanxi (connections),' he said. 'It's hard to say whether giving mooncakes amounts to corruption or wastage. But, right now, it's difficult to find any better way of expressing goodwill than through mooncakes.'

The problem goes beyond corruption. Since last week, Beijing's traffic jams have dragged on for hours as companies rushed to make the deliveries.

And 'fake' mooncakes have appeared: pastries purportedly made by top chefs were actually baked by others, and mooncakes boasting expensive ingredients such as ginseng, bird's nest and foie gras were just flavoured artificially.

But things are not likely to get better as younger Chinese are enthusiastic about splurging on this tradition.

Some 55 per cent of 5,000 executives surveyed by recruitment agency said they will spend 200 yuan to 1,000 yuan on mooncakes this year.

Ms Li Cuiping, 22, said: 'Mid-Autumn Festival is sort of like China's Christmas. Without the nice wrapping paper and goodies, it wouldn't feel the same.'

Additional reporting by Lina Miao

  1. Why is the practise of giving mooncake so important in China?
  2. How does this article show that "guanxi" is still a very relevant concept in Chinese society today?

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