China's workers endure unhappy new year

Taijiang County in Guizhou Province celebrated the 2011 Lunar New Year with dancing dragon and fireworks.

Story highlights

  • State-owned firms, government offices scale back Chinese New Year parties this year
  • Chinese New Year office parties comparable to office Christmas parties in West
  • CIC, PetroChina, Agricultural Bank of China cancelled some or all new year events
  • Chinese New Year this year is February 10

Nothing offends a Chinese employee more than cancelling the annual lunar new year party -- a rare chance to eat, drink and win a free iPad or iPhone, courtesy of the boss.

But the austerity drive launched by the new Chinese leadership of Xi Jinping, coupled with the economic slowdown, has led government departments and state-owned enterprises across China to cancel or radically scale back new year festivities this year -- the equivalent of office Christmas parties in the West, but often far more lavish. Lunar new year begins this year on February 10, but banqueting season is normally in full swing at least a fortnight before.

Some multinational companies say they are struggling to find any government officials willing to be wined and dined, as they scramble to respond to a fresh call for frugality from Beijing, part of the leadership's anti-corruption drive.

Even private companies are getting in on the austerity act, with some opting to hold their lunar new year parties at fast food restaurants, prompting a backlash from employees on social networking sites. Everyone from caterers to florists, purveyors of fine Chinese wines to watches, report their revenues have been affected by the wave of asceticism.

CIC, China's $500bn sovereign wealth fund, opted not to hold a new year party this year. One employee said: "We have never been extravagant in our nianhui [new year parties], and actually had a really good year last year. I can understand if they wanted to do a smaller nianhui, but none at all is going too far."

PetroChina, the state-owned oil producer, said some of its celebrations had been cancelled or scaled down. Sinopec, China's largest oil refiner, said annual celebrations at its headquarters and at some of its subsidiaries had been cancelled. Two years ago, Sinopec claimed that its year-end party, which included comedy skits and singing and dancing routines by staff, was held to encourage the "spiritual life" of employees.

In Shanghai, employees from branches of Agricultural Bank of China and Pudong Development Bank said their year-end festivities did not take place.

One florist at Shanghai Chengzhuang Florist Company, which supplies flowers to hotels and restaurants where business is normally boosted by the parties, said that they were "greatly" affected by the cancellations and that their business had been cut by half from last year.

On Sina Weibo, the microblogging site, one employee posted pictures of her company's year-end party at Pizza Hut, while another complained her company party at a five-star hotel took place from 9am to 11am and offered only the most meagre sustenance: "No gifts, no lunch, no set plate . . . no tea or coffee offered. Everyone only got a mini bottle of mineral water."

Additional reporting by Simon Rabinovitch, Leslie Hook and Jamil Anderlini