Beijing’s next anti-graft target? Mooncakes

HONG KONG (AP) – Mooncakes – the hockey-puck-sized pastries Chinese give each other every year for the mid-autumn festival – were always more about tradition than delicacy: Some people don’t even like them.

But in recent years, as corruption eroded confidence in government, the unscrupulous made the dense, calorific cakes even sweeter.

Luxurious boxes of mooncakes can contain far more than the traditional filling of lotus seed or red bean paste and a salted egg yolk symbolizing the moon. Some have rare ingredients such as abalone, shark fins or bird’s nest. Gift sets can even include items such as gold coins, top-notch wines, mobile phones and diamond rings.

Now, in an effort to combat bribery and extravagant spending, China’s Communist Party leadership has singled out the tradition in its austerity drive. It has banned the use of public money to buy the pastries and associated gifts, dampening demand just as the market hits its usual peak ahead of the Sept. 19 festival.

Mooncakes – or, more often, mooncake coupons redeemable at stores – have been so common as gifts from offices and state-owned companies to employees that a secondhand market has emerged for the vouchers among scalpers in Chinese cities such as Shanghai. But such commerce has dwindled under President Xi Jinping’s austerity drive.

Xi’s effort already has crimped income at posh restaurants.