China in Photos

China in Photos: Day No. 66 In Which I Think About Mooncakes

The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Holiday is just around the corner, the Shangri-La has a “Mooncake Hotline” and the bakeries have boxes of Mooncakes stacked to the ceiling, 10 feet deep.

Mooncakes are a big deal.  They are sort of like the fruitcake of Asia.

If–in addition to being routinely re-gifted and rarely eaten–fruitcakes required actual laws about how expensive the fruitcake container could be.

That’s right, there are laws here about mooncakes.

For instance, the value of the packaging can not be worth more than the moon-cakes themselves.

They’ve also outlawed the practice of including Baijiu made with real flakes of pure gold in the box of Mooncakes.

Seriously.  Gold-enhanced hard alcohol.  In a box with some semi-sweet, semi-preserved cakes that, supposedly, very few people actually eat.

Of course, despite their central role in all of the festivities, the mooncakes are not what’s important.  What’s really important is how much money you spend on the mooncakes and who you give them to.

This is where, if I was being thorough on this little cultural expose, I would say something about “greasing wheels” and “improving relationships” and “building guanxi.”

Instead, I’ll let you use your intuition and imagination.

I find this whole thing incredibly fascinating.  I love walking around town and seeing all of the ads and seeing all of the different pretty boxes and different Mooncake designs.  Even Starbucks is selling them-they cost nearly $50 USD for a box of 4.

But with all of the choices I’m a bit confused.  I’m sure there are all sorts of rules about what kind of mooncakes to give to what people and how much to spend.

I don’t really have anyone I have to buy them for, but I’d like to get some for our housekeeper and maybe some for my colleagues or the nice young men who work at the front gate of our apartment complex.

But then again, if no one really likes them wouldn’t it just be better to get a treat that people actually enjoy eating?  Or am I just being heretical with that idea?

Any China people with any advice for the newbie?

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