Like Christmas in the West, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China is traditionally a time that families gather together. During the festival, people give presents containing mooncakes to family, friends, and business associates.
Traditional mooncakes contain lotus seed paste and salted duck egg yolk, with the egg yolk symbolizing the moon. Each piece can have up to 1,000 calories, more calories than a Big Mac.
But in this Mid-Autumn Festival, besides traditional forms, a new type of mooncake that has “zero-sugar, zero-calories, and zero-fat” was born.
New mooncakes have appeared on some digital collection trading platforms. This is a digital mooncake; it is just a string of data. A digital mooncake is priced up to 50,000 yuan (or over $7,188) a piece.
China Daily newspaper of China raised a concern about the extremely high price. It makes the digital mooncake for speculation easily.
It said, “Those buying it might not include it in their collections, but instead keep them aside while waiting for the right moment to sell it. If the trend catches on, it would make the digital mooncakes a Ponzi scheme.”
Samoyed Cloud Technology Group chief scientist, Zheng Lei, told Yicai.com about the “hidden feelings” behind the high-priced “digital mooncakes.” He said that the possibility of high-priced “digital mooncakes” would be a means of bribery.
China Daily advised the Chinese regime to regulate the digital mooncake now if it wants to prevent the market from becoming a new tool for bribery or a Ponzi scheme. The government has been doing this with the mooncakes market.
In June, the National Development and Reform Commission issued an announcement to curb the sky-high prices of mooncakes and promote the sector’s healthy development.
The commission proposed supervising the boxed mooncakes with a unit price of no more than 500 yuan or $71. Since then, many thousand-yuan mooncakes have retreated from the public arena.
Why was China limiting the price of a critical traditional food at the Mid-Autumn Festival?
First of all, we will explore how luxurious the mooncake is.
At Ole’s supermarket, Shenzhen’s Mixc City opened a special section for luxury mooncakes from Hong Kong and Taiwan. A box of ten pieces of the premium “Peninsula Hotel” mooncake is priced as high as 980 yuan or around $140, with the packaging very shiny and extravagant. The staff advertised it as a limited edition mooncake, with only 1,000 boxes, and more than 700 boxes left.
The Maotai coffee-flavored mooncake gift box that was introduced at The Peninsula Shanghai Hotel, the gift box of 8 mooncakes sold for 1,688 yuan or $240.
Reuters said some mooncakes were filled with gold flakes, shark fin, and abalone. Gold-filled variations were priced at more than $1,000 in rural Shanxi province.
China Merchants Bank also introduced mooncakes made of solid gold and silver.
In addition, when some luxury food accompanies high-end mooncakes, the price is even higher.
People’s Daily reported that some high-end mooncake gift boxes were sold in hotels with a price of up to 2,999 yuan or $427. Among them, a gift box named “Yupin Xinyue” contains one bottle of Italian extra virgin olive oil, two bottles of tea cream, 1 set of high-grade bone china tea cups, and 1 set of bone china knife and fork. The staff repeatedly emphasized that the packaging material of the gift box is special, and it is made of crocodile skin. Only 100 boxes will be sold during the season, and it had to be pre-ordered early.
Sometimes when mooncakes are paired with a bottle of good wine, the price of gift baskets instantly goes up even more than 100,000 yuan or over $14,000.
Secondly, why do people give luxury gifts to others during the Mid-Autumn Festival?
CNN cited Karlson Wong, sales and marketing head of one of Hong Kong’s oldest bakeries, saying, “Ninety percent of people who buy mooncakes give them to others.” He added, “It’s an opportunity to show respect and build relationships.”
Giving gifts during the Mid-Autumn Festival is easier than during the Lunar New Year. Gifts can be sent by mail instead of visits in person. Therefore, this time is an opportunity to respect many people in a vast network.
Since China opened its economy, mooncake giving has exploded in mainland China.
Expensive mooncake packages are hidden in envelopes of cash or coupons for luxury goods.
Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group, pointed out, “What has taken a deep dive is the high-end mooncakes more typically associated with corruption.”
Bloomberg cited attorney Chris Priddy saying, “The holiday also provides an opportunity for individuals with less admirable intentions to corruptly curry favor with influential political and business contacts through extravagant and valuable gifts.”
China’s anti-graft authority banned using public funds to buy round treats. The agency also created a website for citizens to report mooncake-related abuses.
CGTN, a state newspaper, reported the turnover of the mooncake industry plunged to 10.4 billion yuan or $1.48 billion in 2013, a decrease of around 21.2% year on year. It continued down to 10.1 billion yuan in 2014. Then the mooncake market recovered in 2017. Until this year, when China set a new standard.
So how is the price crackdown this year?
Sina outlet said that Häagen-Dazs’ Mid-Autumn Festival gift boxes are priced high. This year’s Haagen-Dazs ice cream mooncakes have seven price points. Among them, the “Louvre Feast” is the most expensive, with a price of 999 yuan or $142.
A hotel in China is putting on its shelves a Mid-Autumn Gift Basket with a price tag of 2,398 yuan, or over $340. The basket offers a tea gift bag, candies, chocolates, honey candy, and chili sauce. A clerk told the publication that buyers might pay an additional 498 yuan ($71) for a separate box of mooncakes to accompany the basket.
Usually, such a gift box should be sold with mooncakes inside. This year, mooncakes must be sold at a price no higher than 500 yuan, or $71. The gift boxes must contain no other things but mooncakes. Hence, merchants are now selling Mid-Autumn gift sets without the traditional treat.
In addition, a merchant’s WeChat account suggested more than ten mooncake gift boxes with fillings like bird’s nests, abalone, truffles, sea cucumbers, and other high-end ingredients. Prices range from $100 to $145. Six mooncakes are in the gift box, including Haojiao, Tianlun Zhile, and Hibake.
China’s crackdown on the mooncake market doesn’t seem to be working very well.