Since the corruption trial of fallen political star Bo Xilai closed last week, it appears the new face of China's anti-corruption measures has a flaky crust, according to Chinese media reports.
Mooncake — the sweet red-bean-and-egg-yolk-filled pastry traditionally gifted and regifted during the Chinese Moon Festival, which takes place later this month — has become a kind of scarlet letter in Beijing's sweeping anti-graft campaign that on Thursday resulted in a 14-year sentence for another official, Yang Dacai, infamous for his taste in luxury goods.
Earlier this week, Chinese state media reported that officials, a number of whom are being targeted in bribery and embezzlement probes, have received a directive discouraging them from using state funds to buy the traditional pastry for constituents.
The Xinhua state news agency reported Thursday that pharmaceutical companies, which are also a focus of the corruption crackdown, aren't purchasing pricey mooncakes for business affiliates from a five-star Shanghai hotel pastry atelier this year. This comes after investigators set their sights on international medicine companies like Britain's GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca of the United States.
The article dubbed the phenomenon the "GlaxoSmithKline" effect.
Whereas in previous years mooncakes costing as much as $160 came in fancy cases and with extravagant fillings like shark fin, at most shops the highest-grade mooncakes now run for a more modest $33, Xinhua reported.
Media analysts say the government typically uses tangible symbols, like the mooncake, to underline its anti-corruption campaigns.
Qingwen Dong, a former Beijing Radio host and communications professor at the University of the Pacific, said that in the case of Yang Dacai — formerly a provincial leader who was investigated in an anti-graft probe — Chinese news and social media circulated images of his many expensive watches before his arrest in 2012. On the Chinese site Sina Weibo, people dubbed Yang "wristwatch brother." His watches became a symbol of the bribery charges he would later face, and for which he was convicted Thursday.
"Definitely mooncakes and watches are easy to use as symbols of the symptoms of corruption," Dong said.
Many in China still await a verdict in the highly publicized trial of former Party chief and Politburo member Bo Xilai.
Arthur Dong, a professor at Columbia University, told Al Jazeera earlier that China's crackdown on luxury goods, including mooncakes and watches, would in the short term mean a blow to its economy.
Only about 35 percent of China's gross domestic product comes from consumption. At a time when leaders are trying to shift the economy away from a production- and investment-heavy model, a blow to luxury spending may mean a temporary economic slump.
But the recipients of Chinese officials' ill-gotten mooncakes need not worry, said Bin Ouyang, a Chinese affairs analyst at the New York-based Asia Society.
"The consumption and price of mooncakes and wine may go down for a moment, but [when] the campaign is over, they will be back, as it happened before," Bin said.
"Although the party is able to launch all sorts of anti-corruption campaigns and movements, it is not touching this institutional reason or, say, institutional origin of China's rampant corruption at all. Therefore, we can imagine, the corruption is going on and will continue."