Gold and silver mooncakes sell out in China, raising specter of corruption

Mooncakes made of gold and silver are selling like hot cakes in China as gifts during the Mid-Autumn Festival, reported the Chinese-language Xinhua news agency last week.

Sold in various weights of gold or silver, many of these mooncakes have reportedly sold out in the run-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 30.

Mooncakes, a traditional Chinese delicacy made of lotus seed paste, are commonly given to family and friends in China as gifts to celebrate the centuries-old Mid-Autumn harvest festival.

The Bank of Communications is reportedly selling a 500-gram gold mooncake at over 21,000 yuan (US$3340) while ICBC Bank is offering a gift box of two 50-gram gold mooncakes, inscribed with auspicious motifs and Chinese characters, for 47,620 yuan (US$6,820). The cheapest of ICBC Bank’s range of mooncakes is a mooncake made of silver that is priced at 850 yuan each (US$135).

Other banks that have also jumped onto the bandwagon include the China Merchant Bank, Bank of Communications and Agricultural Bank of China.

These gold mooncakes are usually purchased as gifts and customers must order at least two week in advance, a bank manager from a China Merchants Bank in Beijing told the Global Times last week, adding that the gifts are "usually not for families or friends."

The Chinese are among the top consumers of gold in the world in recent years. Over the past year alone, the ratio of Chinese rich investing in gold jumped from 0.1 percent in 2011 to 11.5 percent in 2012, based on a report by China-based wealth research firm Hurun on the spending habits of some of China's richest consumers earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the gold and silver mooncakes once again raised suspicions of the scourge of corruption in China in the wake of the recent spate of government bribery scandals.

Netizens have taken to China’s Sina Weibo microblog to express their anger.

"Who will put gold mooncakes on the dining table? It is just to hide corruption," said a netizen Lantianbaiyun3215 on Sina Weibo while another remarked: "The government authorities should take it as a clue in fighting corruption to trace both the buyers and the receivers.”

China’s huge gift market has an estimated value of 768.4 billion yuan (US$121.90 billion), which includes 505.5 billion yuan (US$80.20 billion) for individual needs and 262.9 billion yuan (US$41.71 billion) for group needs, according to a survey by the Chinese Gift Industry Research Institute earlier this year.