If you've been keeping an eye on the headlines out of China these days, you might notice something strange: Mooncakes, the pastries with sweet fillings traditionally eaten during China's Mid-Autumn Festival, which begins on September 12, are stirring all sorts of improbable trouble. Let's take a tour of the main issues:
- Mooncake Tax: The Global Times reports that controversy has erupted over the government's decision to make employees who receive mooncakes from their employers, as is the custom during the holiday, pay personal income tax on the baked goods. More than 50,000 users of China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo service debated the topic in two days, the tabloid noted. A Weibo poll revealed that 96 percent of users opposed the tax.
- Rising Mooncake Prices: While a typical box of mooncakes costs around 100 yuan ($16), China Daily notes, prices for the pastries have soared in recent years. Zhu Nianlin, president of the China Bakery and Confectionery Association, chalks this up to the rising price of raw materials. "This year prices of flour and oil have risen about 10 percent, and sugar has risen 20 percent," he explains.
- Substandard Mooncakes: Xinhua reported this week that Chinese regulators discovered six kinds of substandard mooncakes with "high bacterial content" following examinations on nearly 300 different products just days before the start of the festival.
- Banned Mooncakes: Xinhua reports today that 34 countries have refused to allow mooncakes to be sent through the mail because of "strict inspection standards for imported food, especially for stuffed baked goods like mooncakes." What that means, the news agency adds, is that many Chinese haven't been able to "mail the traditional cakes to their relatives or friends."
- Mooncake Bomb Scare: Police in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung called in the bomb squad this week after a suspicious blue cardboard box was found in a subway station toilet. What did they ultimately find in the package? You guessed it: Those troublesome (but harmless unless they contain bacteria) mooncakes.
Still, The Wall Street Journal points out that controversy surrounding mooncakes isn't new.
In 2010, skyrocketing prices and lax standards led to concerns over a possible "mooncake bubble," while in 2009, a Hong Kong confectioner ruffled traditionalists by offering a series of butt-shaped mooncakes.
Nor is it the first time a "mooncake tax" has raised outrage. In 2009, residents in the southern city of Nanjing were angered when local officials announced they would include the price of gifted mooncakes as personal taxable income. But as the holiday passed, so too did the initiative. A local newspaper found that very few were indeed taxed--most just ate their cake.