Mooncakes of solid gold are a Shanghai sell-out

They cost HK$19,600 and have little investment value, but experts fear the golden versions could be more about bribery than celebration

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2012, 4:00am

They are the hottest mooncakes this season, selling out across the mainland. And their secret ingredient? Pure gold.

But as traditional pastry versions are trumped by gold counterparts, some warn the trend is a ploy with the shiny cakes better for bribing officials.

A China Merchants Bank branch in Shanghai's Xuhui district released 6,000 gold mooncakes earlier this month. The cakes, which weigh 32 grams and carry a 16,000-yuan price tag (HK$19,600), sold out in a week.

Shaped like traditional mooncakes, they have a colourful deer and osmanthus flower design on the top and bottom and celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Sunday this year.

"We sent text messages to our VIP customers, and they scrambled to buy it," Terry Deng, the manager of the Shanghai branch said. "Now there are only silver mooncakes available."

In Beijing, a heavy metal art-ware manufacturer recently started selling exorbitant gold mooncake sets, at 47,620 yuan for two 50-gram mooncakes. "We made 2,000 sets and there is only one left," a sales manager at the Jinyi Cultural Development Company said.

"It's not a new idea to send real mooncakes to people as gifts, but even if you send someone mooncakes worth 500 yuan, he may not eat them. It is better to send our gold or silver mooncakes, which are worthwhile both as a collectable item and as something to be viewed."

But analysts say the gifts have little investment value, as their prices are higher than the market value of gold - 360 yuan per gram on the mainland, according to financial website Hexun.com - and there are few resale options.

Consequently, some suspect their popularity to be of a more sinister nature.

Professor Yu Hai, a sociologist at Shanghai's Fudan University, told the South China Morning Post that mainlanders are keen on using important festivals as an excuse to send bribes.

He noted that Chinese culture advocates people sending luxurious gifts to establish a good rapport and gain favour with others.

In recent years, there has been a public backlash against pricey edible mooncakes, which often come in extravagant packages and may be made with ingredients such as caterpillar fungus, ginseng, abalone and shark fin.

Police in Dongguan , Guangdong, recently busted a shop selling mooncakes that had been made last year and were being reprocessed. The factory had cockroaches and a dead mouse in a barrel of oil.