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Do Mooncakes Play a Role in Clogging Beijing's Roads?

Photo: A sign at a Beijing primary school tells parents not to give gifts
Source: Beijing Times

September 14, 2013
By Zhu Na

As we reported this week, September is usually the worst month for traffic congestion in China's capital. So far, this year has proved no exception and predictions of gridlock have indeed come true.

Based on an analysis of traffic conditions over the past three years, the city's transport authority expects that traffic will be especially bad on the following days:

* Morning rush hour of Sept 2
* Evening rush hour of Sept 10
* Morning and evening rush hour of Sept 16
* Evening rush hour of Sept 17
* Evening rush hour of Sept 18
* Morning and evening rush hour of Sept 22
* Evening rush hour of Sept 27
* Morning and evening rush hour of Sept 29 and
* Evening rush hour of Sept 30.

As we mentioned in our article, there are a few reasons why Beijing's roads are even more clogged than usual in September.

School starts back at the start of the month and parents dropping their kids off at school add to the congestion. There are also two public holidays, the shorter Mid-Autumn Festival (most people get one day off work for this recently-introduced holiday) and the longer National Day Holiday (which officially falls on Oct 1, but the holiday will often begin during the last days of September and continue on into early October, with most white-collar workers getting a week off work).

However, according to anecdotal evidence, it seems that there might be other factors at play.

Gift Giving - The Mooncake Factor

According to some, the tradition of presenting gifts during both the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Holidays also contributes to Beijing's traffic woes.

Many claim that during the holiday period there's an influx of cars from outside of Beijing, as people come from all over the country to deliver gifts in person.

Some cite an increase in the number of official government cars with license plates indicating that they're not from Beijing and the fact that many of the hotels close to central government ministries are fully booked over the period, as proof that the custom of giving gifts is adding to the capital's congestion.

In China, Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for families to gather together. Traditionally, people like to give presents such as mooncakes to their relatives, friends or neighbors before or during the festival.

However, in recent times, many people have gone well beyond giving others a box of mooncakes and many people give and receive much more expensive gifts. Also, people don't just give presents to their relatives and friends, some are also generous with their teachers or bosses.

Some people take advantage of this tradition of giving gifts to offer bribes or curry favor with those who are in position to help them.

Details that emerged during the recent trials of officials charged with accepting bribes show that some of them had accepted bribes that were presented as gifts around the Mid-Autumn Festival.

A popular Beijing newspaper recently surveyed 118 city residents, asking them questions about whether they gave other people gifts during the holiday period.

Over 70 percent of respondents said they will give presents during the holiday period. The people they give presents to are mainly relatives and friends. That said, almost a quarter of those who took part said they will also give presents to their bosses during the period.

Testing the Mooncake Theory

This year the traffic situation in September will hopefully be a little better than in the past.

On Sept 3, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party's anti-corruption body, issued a special notice warning officials about giving gifts during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Holiday period. The notice forbids officials from using public funds to give mooncakes and other presents. Among other things, the notice also says that officials should not use public funds to pay for banquets or arrange banquets which are not related to official duties.

Links and Sources
Yangtze Evening News: 北京“最堵月”背后玄机不少 中秋送礼成原因之一
Beijing News: 王岐山:抓党风、促民风,移风易俗
The Economic Observer: Beijing Begins Worst Traffic Month


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