Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Excess of Petit Fours Forces Beijing to Ban Bacchanal Banquets Feasts on the Public Tab Go on, Even If Foreign Journalists Demur

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Excess of Petit Fours Forces Beijing to Ban Bacchanal Banquets Feasts on the Public Tab Go on, Even If Foreign Journalists Demur

Article excerpt

HERE was the official menu at a banquet for journalists at the five-star Kunming Hotel:

Crab meat and fresh-fruit salad, sauteed squid and ham with pigeon slice, deep-fried cream with baked spare-ribs marinated with champagne sauce, braised seasonal vegetable with Yunnan ham, steamed black chicken with fennel and Chinese berries, braised shiitake mushroom with duck webs, marinated chicken with soy sauce, steamed fresh black fish, fried rice with minced beef, Cantonese petit fours, fresh-water chestnut cream, and fresh-fruit platter.

The Chinese government is on an anticorruption, austerity kick, trying to discipline and curb wayward party cadre from wining and dining on the public tab. But judging from the spread before us, this year's official ban on banqueting echoed hollowly.

The occasion was an interview with Kunming Mayor Wang Tingchen by a small group of foreign journalists traveling through Yunnan Province near China's southern border. Afterward, Mr. Wang excused himself, but insisted his guests stay to dine with other city officials.

Normally, such a feast would be a mouth-watering prospect, and the Chinese officials tucked in. But after almost a week of daily banquets, many at government invitation and expense, the journalists were satiated from a trip that had become a gastronomic ordeal. The foreigners ate little.

In China, polite protests generally go unheeded in the face of such relentless banqueting. A banquet, an age-old ritual in this hierarchical, protocol-conscious country, is supposed to be a happy occasion celebrating the conclusion of a business deal or honoring the presence of a guest.

Yet, as corruption has permeated the government and ranks of the Communist Party, the banquet has become a symbol of graft and decadent officials eying an expensive free lunch. Usually, the most expensive dishes are served. …

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