Happy 中秋节! We didn’t get a chance to do a new post on mooncakes this year. So, here’s our post from September 19, 2013 when we were a Facebook page with a couple of updates:
Mooncakes are the dessert that nobody seems to want. Last year, Hong Kong alone threw away about 2 million of them, alarming environmentalists. No, not because the possibly undigestible mooncakes are also not biodegradable but because of their extravagant packaging. The Hong Kong and Chinese governments have issued regulations regarding the amount and cost of the packaging to reduce waste.
The jewelery-box style packaging has also allowed the giving of mooncakes to be a means of giving “something extra” (because giving mooncakes alone isn’t going to help your guanxi). Susan Jake, Editor of China File and a Senior Fellow at The Asia Society tweeted “Is it wrong to love that the two best English synonyms for bribes, grease and sweeteners, are the main ingredients of mooncakes?” The graft associated with mooncakes is so severe that President Xi Jiping himself has banned using public funds to buy mooncakes as gifts. In addition to addressing corruption, the ban is also part of Xi’s efforts to cut back on government extravagance. Following the announcement of the edict, a state-owned mooncake factory reported a 20 percent drop in the sales of high-end mooncakes and a comparable increase in the sales of modestly-priced counterparts. [Update 2014: Corruption is still so closely tied to mooncakes that the Chinese government created a site that allows people to report mooncake-related misuse of public funds. Note the sample sentence by Baidu Translate.]
Not all mooncakes are sold in gaudy boxes. Some producers have turned to simple, but elegant packaging.
Regardless of their role in environmental waste and palm-greasing, they remain an essential of the Mid-Autumn Festival (except in Taiwan where it’s informally become National Barbecue Day), and people have fun with them. They are a third pillar of a publicity stunt with beauty pageant contestants and pandas, are used to send virtual angry messages to the government, and are made ridiculously large or into butts (someone put the two together).
There remains the fundamental question of whether mooncakes can actually be good to eat. Let’s go to Hong Kong [update: or Los Angeles], try different kinds, or make our own to find out.