Bunfight erupts over shape of things to come

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2008, 12:00am

Have you ever wondered whether a mantou - Chinese steamed bun - should be round or square?

It may sound like a silly question, but it has sparked a huge controversy on the mainland.

The storm was touched off by reports that all mantou would have to be round or oval, under a set of production standards that came into effect on Tuesday.

The guidelines were issued by the Standardisation Administration and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. The State Grain Administration is responsible for their implementation.

With the controversy showing no sign of abating, the Standardisation Administration stepped in yesterday to clarify the situation. It denied all mantou must be a standard shape, calling the guidelines a 'reference'.

An official with the administration said the guidelines were 'merely recommended criteria for making mantou and do not have any legal obligations'.

Small vendors across the mainland had warned that fresh steamed buns might eventually disappear because it would be too difficult to produce standardised versions.

A vendor in Shenyang , Liaoning province , was quoted by the Huashang Morning Post saying the shapes, sizes and even names of mantou varied across the mainland.

'This kind of thing is established by common practice,' he said. 'Some people like big ones, others small ones. How can you regulate it?'

Peking University sociologist Xia Xueluan was quoted by Xinhua saying that more practical information should be added to the guidelines to make the standards easier to apply. Otherwise, they would become useless references.