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Chinese workers down tools after being deprived of mooncakes

Mooncakes sit on a baking tray.
Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mooncakes sit on a baking tray.

Factory workers in a southern Chinese electronics plant downed tools on Tuesday after Beijing's anti-graft campaign deprived them of a perk that they consider less a bribe than a birthright: free mooncakes, traditionally offered by companies throughout China to reward staff on this week's moon festival holiday.

Not any more: President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign – which has targeted all forms of bribery, including the giving of mooncake boxes packed with hidden cash or adorned with precious jewels – has this year hit even the far humbler forms of pastry offered to the ordinary factory worker.

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Staff at the Dongguan Masstop Liquid Crystal Display Company, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, say they went on strike after being offered only an extra chicken leg at lunch – and not a large one at that – but no mooncakes, and a sharply reduced holiday cash bonus. Local police said staff had blocked the company entrance in protest, although most had since returned to work.

"We are very unhappy," Vivi Mo, a worker at the company, told the Financial Times via Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. "We work so hard, but they treat us so badly during the festival." She said some employees, some of whom are paid as little as Rmb1,400 a month (£142), remain on strike.

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People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party, appeared to take the side of disgruntled workers denied their mooncakes, saying in an online commentary that some companies were using the excuse of the anti-corruption campaign to cancel traditional holiday perks for those who consider them an essential salary bonus. "This definitely is not what the central government meant originally,"the commentary said, adding: "The austerity ban is not aimed at normal benefits for employees."

The paper said companies should "console low-level staff by giving them some material benefits to allow them to celebrate a good festival . . . how is that related to corruption?"

The paper accused disgruntled senior executives of trying to spread the pain of the austerity campaign, which has imposed frugality on many in the higher ranks of government or state-owned business, to those who could ill-afford such abstinence. "Some may even be trying to arouse public dissatisfaction to hinder the application of the austerity ban," it said.

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Food is a serious business in China, and many of Beijing's anti-corruption rules have targeted comestibles, from expensive banquets to gift boxes of seasonal hairy crabs.

This year's moon festival holiday provoked headlines in state media about how to procure an "affordable mooncake" or make the pastries at home. One recent photo in state media showed soldiers of the People's Liberation Army making their own homemade gifts of ill-shapen festival pastries.

State broadcaster CCTV said the Chinese Communist party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had found 28 cases of mooncake and other holiday gift violations last week alone.