Xi Jinping

China's new austerity is catching on

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 2:04am


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Xi Jinping's down-to-earth style has gone down well with the public, especially his crackdown on the over-the-top working style of officials, with its pomp and ceremony, waste and extravagance and lavish banquets - part of the new leadership's drive against official corruption. Only a few days ago the party leader reinforced the message he has hammered since he took office in November, with a call for frugality in holding receptions targeted at government agencies, military units, state-owned enterprises, non-profit organisations and officials at all levels.

The timing coincided with the peak of the party season before Lunar New Year. The crackdown has not gone down so well, however, with officials who are accustomed to wining and dining at the taxpayer's expense. They complain that it is the new austerity that is over the top. This follows reports of new year parties being cancelled, shifted to fast-food venues, or stripped of frills such as flowers, alcohol, gifts and prizes.

Their sentiments are no doubt echoed by the hospitality industry. After a once-in-a-decade change of top leadership, hotels and restaurants anticipated rich pickings from celebrations of the new order, to be followed by the usual new year festivities. Instead the phones have run hot with cancellations and downsizings, with officials turning to more discreet locations like guesthouses to host entertainment.

The military, too, has felt the full force of Xi's spartan crusade. As chairman of the Central Military Commission he is also its commander in chief. Indeed, frugality has been catching, with private companies scaling down their parties, to the chagrin of florists, wine merchants and purveyors of party prizes such as tablets and smartphones.

That said, it is new year as usual for the vast majority of a fifth of the world's population. They can even sleep safer in their beds, if we are to believe one mainland report that Xi's ban on alcohol in the military has lifted officers' and men's energy levels and made more time for defence training and exercises.