When the streets of Beijing appear more clogged than usual for a few days at the start of every autumn, it is a sure sign that one of China’s most popular festivals is around the corner. The capital — and rest of the country — erupts in a week-long fit of gift-giving ahead of the annual Mid-Autumn Festival.

Families and friends exchange boxes of traditional mooncakes, which are supposed to be consumed during (preferably moonlit) dinners on the day of the festival, which fell on September 30 this year.

In recent years, the mooncake gift-giving tradition has spawned an industry of its own and, government officials admit, become a hotbed for bribery and corruption. Swapping the traditional bean paste cakes for gold and silver replicas, expensive mooncake gifts have appeared to become a favoured way for businessmen to bribe government officials.

The China Economics Weekly magazine last week quoted the manager of a bank — located conveniently near government offices — as saying that “gold and silver mooncakes were selling extremely well”.

In one central Chinese town, cakes adorned with 56 jewels were being sold as luxury gifts. The Global Times said gift sets of gold and silver mooncakes were selling for 10,000 yuan (Rs.3,300) in Beijing. “The existence of this industry,” scholar Lin Zhe told the newspaper, “shows how serious the corruption problem is.”

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