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 in Beijing 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 against food 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.