Happy Autumn Moon Festival: Mooncakes and corruption

These few days in Nanjing have been sickly humid and about 30 C, as is typical of these coastal Asian cities. Today, with the luck of the Autumn Moon festival, the temperature is a brisk, cool foreshadow of colder days to come.

Mooncake market at Auchan. Some sell for as high as 400RMB. They all taste the same, probably even produced from the same factory with the same ingredients.

The mooncake market is for a large part a vehicle for corruption. Under traditional manufacturing norms, the box should not exceed the value of the contents by 10-20%, but for mooncakes, the box can be 70%+ more expensive. Officials are bribed with mooncake boxes made of gold, or mooncakes stuffed with shark fins and a new camera hidden in its lavish folds.

I think that the amount that people spend on gifting mooncake is appalling. In American terms (taking PPP, Purchasing Power Parity/relative market prices and whatnot into consideration), its like if an individual in America were to spend $400 on a box of munchkins to give as a gift for every one of your relatives and coworkers, every Autumn Festival. (The average US income of the middle class is around $50,000; the average, uh reported, Chinese income of upper-middle class is around 40,000 RMB. Gabe has an interesting post on that.)

Mooncake innards are also recycled or “reworked,” a term describing a practice where factories take leftover or rejected ingredients to be used for a new product. Considering how many mooncakes are churned out every year for the Mid-Autumn Festival, the amount of waste and unsold mooncakes from each year, the odds are that most mooncakes on the market currently (even some of the ones made “fresh” from bakeries) have leftovers in them from as long as five years ago.

Just coat it with a new shiny coat of preservative splendor.

I just don’t think about it when I pop each 1000 calorie worth of lotus paste or red bean mooncake into my mouth.


As “good will” gift for this holiday, Bank of China cleverly gives VIP patrons 500RMB gift cards  in a red envelope instead.

月下獨酌 Drinking Alone by Moonlight

李白 Li Bai

花間一壺酒。 A cup of wine, under the flowering trees;

獨酌無相親。 I drink alone, for no friend is near.

舉杯邀明月。 Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon,

對影成三人。 For her, with my shadow, will make three people.

(The poem continues with the poet getting completely smashed. Google/Baidu the rest. If you don’t know who Li Bai is, I shake my finger of shame at you and come back to me when you’re more literary.)



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