Chinese government cracks down on mooncakes

Do you see a moon in this cake? Or the yolk of corruption?

Story highlights

  • Chinese officials are no longer able to use public money to send mooncakes as gifts
  • The new restriction is part of a campaign against corruption
  • Mooncakes are pastries filled with egg yolk and lotus seed paste
  • Expensive mooncake gifts have become important in Chinese business culture

Presenting mooncakes to relatives and business associates may be an integral part of China's Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, but a new law aims to dampen the spirit of mooncake giving -- at least among government officials.

As announced by the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and reported by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the Chinese government has announced that officials will no longer be able to use public money to send mooncakes as gifts during the festival.

This year's Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 19.

The new restriction is being presented as part of President Xi Jinping's campaign against corruption and official largesse.

"Superior departments and officials should seize on the trend of these luxurious celebrations and be courageous enough to spot and rectify decadent behavior in a timely manner while setting an example themselves," the party circular read.

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The traditional pastry eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival is normally filled with salted duck egg yolk and lotus seed paste.

The egg yolk inside symbolizes the moon -- each piece can contain up to 1,000 calories.

Mainland China and Hong Kong are particularly devoted to mooncakes.

Come the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, many bakeries set up special mooncake counters just to service customers seeking the pastries.

"Ninety percent of people who buy mooncakes give them to others," says Karlson Wong, head of sales and marketing at Kee Wah Bakery, one of Hong Kong's oldest bakeries.

"It's an opportunity to show respect and build relationships."

Mooncake graft

A traditional time for family members to gather, the Mid-Autumn Festival has a unique gift-giving culture.

Although gifts and "lucky" envelopes filled with cash are exchanged during Chinese New Year, these must typically be accompanied by personal visits to people's homes.

Not so for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Gifts can be sent by mail, opening up a whole new world of opportunity to pay respect to many people in a wide network all at once.

In recent years, mooncake giving has exploded in mainland China.

Boxes worth upward of RMB 2,000 ($318) are snapped up by businesspeople eager to bet their business relations on a cake.

Expensive mooncake packages have been known to include high-grade tea leaves, bottles of alcohol or hidden envelopes of cash or coupons for luxury goods, riding the fine line between gifting and bribing.

Last year, mainland authorities began enforcing a rule on gift packages, disallowing all non-mooncake items from packs labeled "mooncake."

This year's law is meant to deliver an even stronger blow against Big Mooncake.