Spring Festival, touchstone for Beijing's frugality drive

Spring Festival, touchstone for Beijing's frugality drive

The entrenched Chinese New Year or Spring Festival tradition of giving gifts and flaunting affluence could easily negate the country's ongoing efforts to curb rampant corruption and uphold frugality.

The festival, which falls on Feb. 10 this year, is an occasion for the Chinese to visit family members and friends and present gifts ranging from cigarettes and liquor to "red envelopes" filled with cash. It is a historic part of Chinese culture.

But what is supposed to make the occasion festive could at the same time make it equally destructive. Traditions have made it hard to distinguish where social etiquette ends and where corruption begins.

Bribe-givers will definitely seize this opportunity to present gifts, making the bribery harder to detect. Bribe-takers, mostly officials, will also find it easier to duck out of the discipline watchdogs' searchlights into a "blind spot" created by the nationwide week-long holiday.

It always takes greater courage and perseverance to say "no" during the Spring Festival, when temptations to break various abstinence vows becomes almost irresistible. But obviously "skip the diet for a day" is by no means the same as "take bribes for a time."

A crime is a crime, even if it is committed during the most gluttonous period of the year.

At the end of December, China's discipline watchdog urged officials not to present gifts from public funds when the country celebrated the New Year in 2013. No major violations were reported at that time.

But the Chinese Lunar New Year, the most important festival in Chinese societies, is the real touchstone for China's resolution to combat corruption. It is a time when senses of restraint are challenged by both tradition and culture.

Another concern seems more detectable. Will the Spring Festival of the Year of the Snake be a frugal one?

The call from China's leadership to fight against extravagance has so far been well echoed throughout China. Wealthy state-owned enterprises have cut their annual parties and netizens have launched the "clean plate campaign" in cyberspace against waste on dining tables.

Spring Festival has always been a time of revelry for Chinese households, even the most thrifty ones, after a whole year of hard work and savings. As a popular Chinese saying goes: "One can be stingy any other time than the Spring Festival."

So whether the organizers of Spring Festival banquets honor the calls for frugality remains to be seen.

Spring Festival marks the start of a new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. If China's anti-corruption and frugality drive fails to pass the test at the beginning of the new year, its chances of sustained success are surely slim.