Leaner New Year: China tones down the celebrations

BEIJING: Chinese New Year is traditionally a time for colorful and noisy displays of fireworks and generous-portioned banquets. This year, the festivities are likely to be a little more austere.

Authorities have asked the public to set off fewer fireworks inBeijing to reduce pollution, a new anti-extravagance drive has prompted government officials and state-owned companies to cancel their banquets at high-end hotels and a campaign againstfood waste is leading to half-portions in restaurants. Even ads for luxury goods were pulled ahead of Saturday’s opening of the seven-day holiday.

All in all, China’s Lunar New Year is shaping up to be a Leaner New Year.

Following a call by China’s new leader Xi Jinping to oppose waste, a village just outside of Beijing has canceled its mass dumpling festival that has been taking place for the past 30 years, involves hundreds of people and draws television cameras.

“We planned to make about 50,000 dumplings and now the plan has been canceled,” said a woman surnamed Wang from the Liuminying village committee’s tourist office. “The flour bought for the festival will be distributed to the villagers and we haven’t bought the meat yet. Villagers will make dumplings at home with their own families and they may feel like this is a new experience for them since they haven’t done it that way for such a long time.”

Xi recently called for people to be more frugal and oppose waste following a “Clear the Plate” campaign by netizens calling on restaurants to cut down food waste. His words sparked off an anti-food waste campaign in state media.

He had already launched a crackdown against government extravagance, aimed at cutting corruption by officials, which angers the general public and threatens the party’s hold on power.

Capsulizing the new mood, the website of the Global Times newspaper on Wednesday displayed a photo of workers at a power supply company in eastern Anhui province writing “cut down waste” slogans on balloons.

The Beijing city government together with catering associations announced that the restaurant industry should reduce food waste. Ten companies with a total of 749 branches have responded with a plan to offer half-portions and encourage people to take away their leftovers, according to the Beijing News.

A lot of people are already asking for the half portions, said a waitress at Xiabu Xiabu, one of the named chains, in a central Beijing office block.

Bearing the brunt of Xi’s austerity drive, government officials and state-owned companies are stopping their banquets this year, and luxury hotels are missing out on the business.

A lot of reservations are being cancelled, many of which were for government departments and state-owned companies, said a woman surnamed Zheng at the dining department of the Zhejiang Hotel in eastern Hangzhou city.

Hu Xiaonan, 24, who works for a PR company, said having banquets over the New Year holiday is a must, but people should wrap up the leftovers. “Most people are worried about losing face” — if they take the leftovers home people will think they are too concerned about money, Hu said.

Highlighting the dangers of over-indulging, the general manager of a state-owned financial investment company in southern Guangdong province has been suspended following a banquet in which he and 16 others ran up a bill worth 37,517 yuan ($5,965), according to the Zhuhai city Communist Party. They drank 12 bottles of expensive wine and Zhou Shaoqiang tried to hide theextravagance by having the restaurant make out a receipt for about a tenth of the price.

In another response to the calls for people to shun extravagance and waste, China’s TV watchdog has ordered all radio and television channels to cut advertising suggesting “gift giving,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported this week. A circular issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television says some ads have encouraged people to give luxury watches, rare stamps and gold coins, “which has publicized incorrect values and helped create a bad social ethos,” Xinhua said. This also has to do with corruption, because it’s less obvious than giving money. These goods are easily tradable, so someone seeking a favor from an official can give him or her an expensive watch and the official can then easily sell it.

While fireworks are a major part of the festivities surrounding the Lunar New Year, which marks the beginning of the Year of the Snake, authorities in Beijing are asking the public to curb firework celebrations so as not to add to the city’s worsening air pollution, Xinhua reported Tuesday.

Beijing’s air has been a hot topic over the past month because of especially bad bouts of pollution turning the city into a gray landscape. The poor visibility affected flights, disrupting travel home ahead of the celebrations, the biggest family reunion of the year.

“That day when we saw the pollution, my son said let’s not do fireworks this year in Beijing,” said Wang Yufeng, a 36-year-old teacher.

Hu, who works in PR, doesn’t think the Lunar New Year will be any less enjoyable this year because of the campaigns to reduce waste and fireworks.

“It is for us, for the environment and our future generations,” she said.