On the front page of today’s New York Times lands a story about austerity measures being taken in China under the newly anointed President Xi Jinping. Austerity does not come easy in a country where spendy government-sponsored retreats are a matter of course. But it appears that the Communist party leaders are being hit hardest in the belly, with widespread calls for “self-restraint” when it comes to ordering food and drink.
The Times reporters point to a new rule that limits ordering to “four dishes and a soup” — a reference to the country’s great tradition of lavish, multi-course banquettes (a tradition that was often paid for with tax dollars). The article goes on to offer a fascinating glimpse into the food-centric lives of Chinese bureaucrats, and how the times are possibly changing. Some highlights:
- “Sales of shark fins had dropped more than 70 percent, and sales of edible swallow nests, the main ingredient of a $100-a-bowl delicacy, were down 40 percent.”
- “Moutai, the $600-a-bottle gut-searing grain alcohol that is an omnipresent intoxicant at official banquets, has also seen its growth slow recently.”
- “The China Cuisine Association said that 60 percent of restaurants surveyed last month had experienced a drop in reservations, with government-sponsored banquets down by nearly a third compared with the same period last year.”
- “So far, most victims of the frugality drive have been purveyors of the good life: high-end caterers, abalone wholesalers, five-star hotels and makers of Yellow Pavilion cigarettes, the $300-a-carton brand coveted by up-and-coming bureaucrats.”
- “At the headquarters for China’s armed police, where two branches of the restaurant face each another across a courtyard packed with government-issued Audis, business was down by a third, restaurant executives said. The drop in revenue prompted the company to mothball one of the two restaurants, cut prices on some dishes and start offering half-size dishes to show the company’s dedication to Mr. Xi’s moderation credo.”
Many see these measures as simply a token gesture, and only temporary. “More than just restricting people’s eating habits, we need to restrain the party’s power, otherwise this is just political farce,” Wu Qiang, a political science professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told the Times. But in the meantime, for Chinese government heavies, the Moutai is being left in the cabinet.
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