| BEIJING, Sept 16
BEIJING, Sept 16 Gold-encrusted mooncakes
stuffed with shark's fin are out of favour ahead of this week's
mid-autumn festival in China after a crackdown on corruption
killed off demand for such lavish pastries - long used as a way
to bribe officials.
With more calories than a Big Mac, mooncakes are given as
gifts to family, friends and employees during China's Mid-Autumn
Festival, which falls on Sept. 19 this year.
In recent years lavish varieties have popped up with
jewellery-box style packaging, allowing cash, liquor or other
goodies to be hidden in with the pastries.
But an anti-corruption drive by President Xi Jinping has
left the pricier treats languishing on the shelves, shopkeepers
and analysts said, even as sales of more traditional lotus seed-
and sesame paste-stuffed varieties were unhurt.
"What has taken a deep dive is the high-end mooncakes more
typically associated with corruption," said Shaun Rein, managing
director of China Market Research Group.
The gilded age of mooncakes was last year, when pastries
stuffed with gold flakes, shark's fin and abalone made
headlines. In rural Shanxi province, gold-filled variations sold
for more than $1,000, local newspapers reported.
Mid-sized China Merchants Bank Co Ltd
marketed mooncakes made of solid gold and silver, state media
A spokesperson at the bank's headquarters in Shenzhen could
not be reached for comment but a manager at a branch in Beijing
said she was not aware of any gold or silver cakes being sold
"It's normal to exchange gifts but too much reciprocity has
become a form of extravagance," the People's Daily, mouthpiece
of the ruling Communist Party, wrote in a commentary last month
about the holiday.
Excesses in past years had even prompted the government to
ask officials and workers to pay income tax on mooncakes they
"(This year) some government officials are less willing to
accept a lavish or high-priced box of mooncakes, or in some
cases, any mooncakes at all," said Eric Carlson, a Beijing-based
partner at law firm Covington & Burling and an anti-corruption
Carlson said he had heard that some government agencies had
told mailroom staff to filter out mooncake packages before
The Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline
Inspection on Friday urged people to report cases of party
members and government or state-owned enterprise officials
spending public funds on gifts, banquets, travel and luxury
goods during the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day
holiday, which falls in early October.
While China regularly announces anti-corruption campaigns,
this one appears to have more bite than usual, although experts
say only deep and difficult political reforms will make a real
"Political developments this year have had a definite impact
on sales of high-end mooncakes," said Qian Qiliang, who has run
a state-owned mooncake factory in Shanghai for two decades,
adding sales had fallen 20 percent.
Qian said he adjusted his production goals when he heard
about the crackdown, predicting demand for pricier pastries
would fall. Demand for lower-cost cakes with traditional
fillings had risen by 20 percent, he said.
Luxury hotels said the most expensive mooncake sets they
sell, often in lacquered or decorated boxes, were not doing
A spokeswoman for China World Hotel, owned by Shangri-La
Group , declined to discuss sales because
"frankly it's not a very positive topic". She declined to give
The Sofitel Wanda Hotel in Beijing, owned by Dalian Wanda
Group Co Ltd and operated by Accor, said corporate
customers were more likely to go for mid-range packages.
"The atmosphere is more difficult and tough for selling
mooncakes this year," said Cedric Besler, the hotel's manager.
Rein said private companies were also cutting back on
conspicuous mooncake consumption because they did not want to be
seen as being ostentatious.
"Every day there's another executive being hauled off and
put in jail," he said. "There's a fear among both officials and
businessmen right now. No one wants to be caught giving bribes."
MOONCAKE COUPONS HIT TOO
The crackdown on luxury mooncakes has also hurt a
blackmarket for mooncake coupons.
For convenience, workplaces often give employees coupons for
expensive mooncakes in lieu of the cakes themselves. Those who
dislike mooncakes sometimes sell the coupons to traders who hang
out outside hotels and shopping malls.
Those who do like mooncakes buy coupons at a discount from
traders. Manufacturers sometimes also buy back coupons from
traders in large batches.
"Most mooncakes are God awful," Rein said. "People are
scared of eating them because everyone knows how bad they are,
and they could be years old if people keep re-gifting them."
A Shanghai based-coupon trader surnamed Xiong, who has been
working the sidewalk opposite a Shanghai branch of the Hang Fa
Lau dessert shop for a decade, said the windfall he counts on
had declined from up to 2,000 yuan ($330) a day to just a few
"There's nothing I can do," said Xiong, who spends the rest
of the year hawking cigarettes.
Another trader, surnamed Pan, said profits were down 60
percent from a year earlier.
"When Xi says something like this, the people he hurts are
the ordinary folk," Xiong said.