‘Ban­quet ban’ gives lo­cals food for thought

A city in South­west China has banned lo­cals from host­ing elab­o­rate ban­quets as a way of re­duc­ing food waste and pre­vent­ing un­nec­es­sary ex­pen­di­ture. re­ports from An­shun, Guizhou prov­ince, with in Bei­jing.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

There are many gov­ern­ment de­part­ments in China, both lo­cal and cen­tral, but few have a brief as un­usual as the depart­ment that reg­u­lates the num­ber of ban­quets lo­cal res­i­dents are al­lowed to host in An­shun, a city in Guizhou prov­ince, South­west China.

The of­fice may sound like a joke, but the prob­lem it was set up to ad­dress is any­thing but amus­ing. The ex­or­bi­tant num­ber of ban­quets be­ing held re­sulted in lost work hours and a huge waste of food. More­over, peo­ple were grad­u­ally slid­ing into poverty be­cause of the large amounts of money they were ex­pected to hand over to the hosts as cash gifts, a must when at­tend­ing a ban­quet in the city.

A “ban­quet ban” team was es­tab­lished in Fe­bru­ary last year in Pud­ing county, which has a pop­u­la­tion of more than 470,000 and is one of six coun­ties or county-level districts in the city, which is home to about 2.3 mil­lion. The county, which is ad­min­is­tered by the An­shun gov­ern­ment, also set up an of­fice for the team in the build­ing that houses the lo­cal com­mis­sion to guide cul­tural and eth­i­cal progress.

The crack­down, which was overseen by the lo­cal com­mis­sion for dis­ci­pline in­spec­tion, was ini­tially part of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign and was aimed at reg­u­lat­ing the be­hav­ior of pub­lic ser­vants. How­ever, the city gov­ern­ment was dis­mayed to dis­cover that the num­ber of ban­quets be­ing held by lo­cal res­i­dents was ris­ing sharply, even as the cam­paign against of­fi­cial waste be­gan to bite.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment pro­vided to China Daily by the Pud­ing com­mis­sion to guide cul­tural and eth­i­cal progress, the prob­lem was get­ting out of hand: “There were too many ban­quets. On av­er­age, each house­hold spent about onethird of its an­nual in­come on cash gifts. To raise the money to pro­vide cash gifts, some vil­lagers sold crops they had ear­marked as food for the fam­ily and even bor­rowed money at usu­ri­ous rates. For the hosts, the ban­quets be­came a method of rais­ing money, but for those at­tend­ing, the prac­tice re­sulted in a huge fi­nan­cial bur­den that led to many peo­ple suf­fer­ing.”

The state­ment also noted that some lo­cals who lived in other towns and cities as mi­grant work­ers were pres­sured to re­turn home reg­u­larly to at­tend ban­quets, fur­ther wast­ing time and money.

As a re­sult, the fo­cus of the reg­u­la­tory team’s ac­tiv­i­ties was widened to tar­get ex­trav­a­gant meals hosted by lo­cal res­i­dents.

At one point, ban­quets were held so fre­quently that some lo­cals de­cided the only way to avoid the pres­sure to at­tend was to re­lo­cate to dis­tant towns and cities.

Zhang Qing­song, from Tangyue vil­lage in An­shun’s Pingba district, was one of the “emi­gres”. He re­turned to Tangyue in 2014 af­ter more than a decade away. Dur­ing his time out­side the vil­lage, he didn’t even re­turn for Spring Fes­ti­val, China’s most im­por­tant hol­i­day.

“Ev­ery­body held ban­quets. If you worked in my home­town, it was al­most cer­tain that you would be­come poorer and poorer. The money you made would not be enough to pro­vide all the cash gifts,” the 44-year-old said.

“Some­times I re­ceived more than 10 in­vi­ta­tions a month. It was a face-re­lated is­sue: If you didn’t ask for leave to at­tend ban­quets, other peo­ple wouldn’t at­tend yours, so you lost face. How- ever, if you worked a long dis­tance away, you had an ex­cuse to not to at­tend.”

Wang Hai, Party sec­re­tary of Jinma vil­lage in An­shun, said peo­ple who gave cash gifts al­ways wanted to re­coup their out­lay, so they would use any ex­cuse to host a ban­quet, of­ten to mark events that were not on the list of tra­di­tional cel­e­bra­tions.

The prob­lem was ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that many peo­ple be­lieved they had to give their host a big­ger cash gift than they had re­ceived from him at their own ban­quet.

The rea­sons for host­ing ban­quets ranged from the tra­di­tional to the tawdry. Some peo­ple ad­hered to con­ven­tional cel­e­bra­tions, such as mark­ing the 30th and 100th days af­ter the birth of a baby, while oth­ers toasted a child’s en­rol­ment at col­lege or en­try into the army. How­ever, some peo­ple held ban­quets when­ever they added an­other story to their house.

In 2013, Chen Qiang bought a new apart­ment in Jinma, so he held a house­warm­ing ban­quet with the aim of re­coup­ing the money he had spent on his new home.

Un­for­tu­nately for Chen, the plan wasn’t a suc­cess. “I spent 30,000 yuan ($4,370) on the ban­quet, and re­ceived about 40,000 yuan in cash gifts. How­ever, the ex­tra 10,000 yuan was quickly eaten up by the cash gifts I had to give at other ban­quets. It was trou­ble­some, and all money was wasted on eat­ing and drink­ing,” said the 41-year-old for­mer mi­grant worker.

Wang, the Party sec­re­tary, said the de­sire to keep up with the Jone­ses re­sulted in every­one los­ing out be­cause the ban­quets be­came in­creas­ingly elab­o­rate and ex­pen­sive.

Wang Mingyun, a 61-yearold Jinma res­i­dent, elab­o­rated: “If a fam­ily of­fered 16 cour­ses at a ban­quet, other peo­ple were tempted to try and gain face by of­fer­ing 18. It was com­mon to see about half of the food pro­vided be­ing thrown away. It was a huge waste.”

New reg­u­la­tion

To crack down on the prac­tice, a reg­u­la­tion was drafted in Fe­bru­ary last year, and an in­spec­tion team was es­tab­lished, con­sist­ing of mem­bers of gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, in­clud­ing the pub­lic se­cu­rity and civil af­fairs bu­reaus. Ev­ery vil­lage or vil­lage-level com­mu­nity passed their own reg­u­la­tions, based on the ban but tai­lored to lo­cal cir­cum­stances. Now, ev­ery gov­ern­ment depart­ment, vil­lage or com­mu­nity com­mit­tee, and pub­lic or­ga­ni­za­tion in­cludes an of­fi­cial who over­sees ban­quet­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

The reg­u­la­tion stip­u­lates that ban­quets can only be held on the oc­ca­sion of a wed­ding or fu­neral. More­over, peo­ple are now re­quired to give the vil­lage or com­mu­nity com­mit­tee five days no­tice that they in­tend to host a feast. Cash gifts are still al­lowed, but the max­i­mum amount is set at 100 yuan, and there must be fewer than 30 ta­bles, each of which must of­fer dishes that cost less than 120 yuan each.

If pub­lic ser­vants vi­o­late the reg­u­la­tion, their case will be trans­ferred to the lo­cal com­mis­sion for dis­ci­pline in­spec­tion, but non-of­fi­cial trans­gres­sors face a pun­ish­ment based on the reg­u­la­tions set by the lo­cal vil­lage or com­mu­nity com­mit­tees.

In some vil­lages, spe­cial teams have been es­tab­lished to cook and serve ban­quets, so the vil­lagers won’t be tempted to take leave from work to as­sist with the prepa­ra­tions. In Tangyue, the team com­prises more than 30 mem­bers of the vil­lage co­op­er­a­tive, ac­cord­ing to Zuo Wenxue, the Party sec­re­tary of the vil­lage. Res­i­dents only have to pro­vide the raw ingredients, and the vil­lage com­mit­tee will cover the rest of the cost.

The move has paid off. Last year, in Pud­ing alone, there were 7,000 fewer ban­quets than in 2015, which saved 300 mil­lion yuan, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

“Our ef­forts have pro­duced good re­sults. We are now dis­cussing pay­ing vil­lagers’ fu­neral ex­penses as well. That will mean lo­cal res­i­dents will be un­der less eco­nomic pres­sure so they will re­main fo­cused on their work, which will greatly ben­e­fit the lo­cal econ­omy,” Zuo said.

Manyue (30th day af­ter birth): In an­cient China, it was be­lieved that ba­bies passed a dif­fi­cult point af­ter their birth if they sur­vived for 30 days. To cel­e­brate the achieve­ment, this cer­e­mony would be held, wit­nessed by rel­a­tives and friends, who prayed for the baby to be blessed. The tra­di­tion lives on in some ar­eas of China to­day. Some­times I re­ceived more than 10 in­vi­ta­tions a month.” Zhang Qing­song, An­shun res­i­dent

In an­cient times, this cer­e­mony was held when males reached the age of

Held when girls reached 15. Af­ter the cer­e­mony, the girls were con­sid­ered adult and were al­lowed to marry.

res­i­dents gather for a ban­quet in An­shun, Guizhou prov­ince. Se­cond: Mem­bers of the Tangyue vil­lage com­mit­tee pre­pare food for lo­cal res­i­dents. Third: A stripped-down ban­quet in Tangyue vil­lage. Fourth: Chil­dren en­joy a ban­quet in An­shun.

Dashou (lit­er­ally “big age”): Tra­di­tion­ally, this ban­quet was held to mark a per­son’s 50th birth­day, and then re­peated ev­ery 10 years, at ages 60, 70, 80, and 90. A per­son’s 100th birth­day was not cel­e­brated in this way be­cause 100 is re­garded as a sym­bol of whole­ness, and is there­fore one of the most sat­is­fac­tory num­bers.

Dong Xianwu con­trib­uted to the story

Con­tact the writer at houliqiang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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