Mooncake is being snubbed in China for the first time anyone can remember, despite of the forthcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, while the fate of crabs is only a little bit better - or worse, depending on your point of view.
Luxury mooncakes -- a form of tribute -- used to be sold at staggering prices, easily more than 1,000 yuan (about 162 U.S. dollars), but such prices are rare this year, ahead of the Sept 19 festival.
At the Walmart in Beijing's Xuanwu Men Wai Street, Xinhua reporters found price tags on mooncakes mostly marked with numbers ranging from 49 to 300.
"The highest price is 888 yuan and only two boxes of mooncakes at such price have been sold so far," a seller told reporters.
According to He Yikui, executive deputy head of south China's Guangxi Restaurants Cuisine Association, most local mooncake manufacturers are operating at output of around 50 percent.
On China's leading online shopping platform Taobao.com, almost none of the mooncakes priced over 2,000 yuan have been sold in the past month, compared with hundreds of thousands of sales for those priced at or below 300 yuan.
Sales for mooncakes priced between 1,000 to 2,000 yuan are also less than 20 on Taobao.
Prices of the Chinese mitten crabs, another autumn delicacy for Chinese foodies, have also declined from the same period last year, but the fall is not so precipitous as for their mooncake companions.
The Suzhou Yangcheng Lake Crab Association predicts an average of 20 percent lower prices from last year.
Size of human palm, the crabs generally live in the fresh waters of east China's Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and are rich in protein and amino acids. The price of a single crab was once driven up to over 100 U.S. dollars.
Since Aug 21, about one month before the festival, disciplinary authorities of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have repeatedly barred officials from gifting mooncakes and other presents using public money.
"Giving gifts like costly mooncakes and crabs has deviated from the traditional virtue of frugality, and buying them with public funds has eroded the Party and social atmosphere," said China's anticorruption tsar Wang Qishan.
On Tuesday, China's courts were told that there would be no mooncakes on the public dime for elimination of the four "evil winds" -- formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance -- a beefing up of CPC leadership's "eight-point" rules issued for bureaucratic reform late last year.
"It seems that the mooncake has returned to its essence of being a pastry for common families," said He Yikui.
He blamed the soaring price in past years on excessive packaging and tie-in sales. For instance, a bulky mooncake gift box quoted at 5,000 yuan might include a combo of pastries, red wine and even watches.
He said the authorities' extravagance crackdown will spur the official-oriented mooncake industry to turn back to the ordinary people, which is, in fact, conducive to the long-term development of the industry.
The demise of super-luxury mooncakes and crabs following the austerity order reveals their relations with public spending, according to Xia Xinping, associate researcher with the Guangxi University of Science and Technology.
Xia warned of some "covert" gift-giving using public funds, such as buying other things instead of mooncakes, or buying luxury gifts online and giving them via express delivery.
Indeed, gifts are not only mooncakes and crabs. Searching key words like "high-end gifts, mid-autumn" on Taobao.com, thousands of commodities popped up including diamonds, mink coats and teas with prices varying from 50 to about 28,000 yuan.
At a booming online tea shop, the vendor said his 297-yuan "Tie Guanyin," a popular variety of oolong tea, is packaged in a porcelain box decorated with red gold thread.
After purchase, he will seal the gifts in a carton and mail them to the exact addresses the customers offered. "That's 'safe' and low-profile," he said.