More a festival to show off affluence now

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 23 Sep 2007

FESTIVE gifts that are luxuriously adorned and wrapped, and, of course, exorbitantly priced too, have caused a stir in Beijing and other major cities in China in recent years. 

Gift-giving is part of Chinese culture, especially during major festivals like the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and the coming Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Tuesday.  

And it’s a good opportunity to establish or maintain guanxi (connection) during festivals by sending gifts to show friendship and warmth. 

The value of the gifts reflects the levels of friendship and importance of the guanxi

Losing face, saving face and giving face is very important and should be taken into consideration at all times, especially in Chinese business etiquette, I was told by my local friends. 

“In recent years, tian jia yue bing (mooncakes sold at skyrocketing prices) have been an alarming phenomenon,” said a local friend. 

It reflects the loss of the traditional Chinese culture of moderation, he added.  

But where there is demand, there is supply, the manufacturers argue, stating that the highly criticised tian jia yue bing is a creative and unconventional business approach to woo their consumers! 

Imagine receiving a box of mooncakes that comes with a golf set or other items like mobile phones! 

According to local media reports, the price of these tian jia yue bing ranges from a few hundred yuan to a few thousand. 

Sharing the concern, the Chinese government has ordered the relevant authorities to put a stop to such extravagance and the local media have increasingly highlighted such unhealthy practices. 

A box of mooncakes, for example those with a filling of ham and wild mushrooms, may cost 228 yuan (about RM105). 

A box of double-egg-yolk-lotus-paste mooncakes costs only about RM40 in Kuala Lumpur. 

The price and variety of mooncakes may be different in the Chinese capital and Kuala Lumpur, but not the pressure on suppliers in both capitals when more and more businesses like hotels and supermarkets jump on the mooncake-giving bandwagon. 

As the Mid-Autumn Festival nears, suppliers to restaurants, hotels and supermarkets will be approached to “help their friends” to meet the required sales quota.  

And helping friends is considered part of the Chinese business culture. 

“Currently my Shanghai office still has about RMB2,000 (about RM918) worth of mooncakes – about 15 boxes – sitting in the conference room,” wrote Danny Levinson, BDL Media’s CEO, in the BDL Media Blog Corner.  

“We previously had over 70 boxes in Shanghai, with more in Beijing and Shenzhen offices.  

“And with mooncakes given during two holidays each year, we spend a sizeable amount of money on these chalky treats.”  

Two Saturdays ago, a dairy firm sent more than 100 of its employees with a 100-yuan note each to make small purchases at Carrefour. The exercise, which was a form of protest against the supermarket’s pressure on the company to buy mooncakes worth about 30,000 yuan (about RM13,800), created chaos at the cashiers’ counters when they ran out of small change.  

According to Zhengzhou Mengniu Company general manager Lin Chengsong, Zhengzhou Carrefour had pressured them to make the purchase but the company had hesitated. 

Lin told local media that Carrefour had retaliated by reducing Mengniu’s prices at their store, causing loss to his company. 

The retaliation ended up in a fracas, where three employees from Mengniu and one from Carrefour were injured. Later, police reportedly detained four people from Mengniu, including Lin, and two guards from Carrefour, who were accused of beating other people. 

The affair was seen as “an apparent act of civil and consumer disobedience!”  

It may seem like mooncakes sparked off this fistfight, but it is more of a reflection of the disappearance of the good old values of courtesy and civility. 

Rising consumerism, affluence and fast-changing lifestyles have resulted in impatience and arrogance! 

On zhong qiu jie, the giving of mooncakes is regarded as a symbol of family reunion. Mooncakes are also known as “reunion cakes”, as family members gather and enjoy the traditional delicacy while appreciating the view of the full moon. 

Today, mooncakes are a commercial entity that are being used, to an extent, as an ostentatious means to show wealth, privilege and status.  

But I believe many still remember the cultural significance of mooncakes as they enjoy these tasty treats on the day of the festival. 

Zhong qiu jie kuai le!  

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