Chinese County Bans Birthday Parties in ‘Frugality Drive’

birthday cake
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A county government in southwestern China banned residents from holding birthday parties and other celebrations starting this month as part of a frugality campaign by China’s ruling Communist Party.

The government of Funing county in Yunnan province issued a notice last week announcing that birthday parties, housewarmings, university admission, and graduation celebrations “would all be banned from this month,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on May 12.

The decree also set forth new restrictions on weddings and funerals, “including a ban on cash gifts above 200 yuan (US$31) and ordering that funerals be held within three days of death,” according to the report.

“The directive applies to all communist party members, civil servants and leaders of village organisations,” according to the SCMP.

Funing county’s celebration ban comes after China’s central government proposed a frugality initiative in 2016 that targeted traditional Chinese weddings and funerals. In some rural Chinese communities, both weddings and funerals may involve hundreds of people, include several events spread out over several days — such as elaborate processions — and encourage guests to present cash gifts to the hosts. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) said its frugality campaign aimed to create a more “civilized” and “clean” environment for traditional social celebrations while serving the central government’s efforts to alleviate poverty in rural China.

“A directive on changing customs jointly issued by 11 central [Chinese] government bodies in 2019 ordered local authorities to issue detailed, village-based policies to prevent lavish funerals and weddings,” the SCMP recalled on Wednesday.

The government of Feixiang district, located in China’s northern Hebei province, announced strict limits on wedding and funeral ceremonies in late 2017.

“According to the standard, no more than six cars can be used for picking up the bride and her relatives. Previously, up to 40 cars would be used as part of a grand and impressive wedding ceremony,” China Daily, a newspaper owned by the CCP’s propaganda department, reported in July 2019.

“Furthermore, guests are served a simple meal — a vegetable and meat stew, or daguocai in Chinese — rather than a meal with dozens of courses. Finally, group wedding ceremonies are encouraged and betrothal gifts are discouraged,” the newspaper added.

“Families who obey the standard may enjoy benefits such as free physical examinations for parents and newborns at local hospitals. Pregnant women may also receive discounts for examinations during pregnancy,” Cai Fuhai, the Communist Party chief of Nanduqi village in Feixiang, told China Daily at the time.

“Families who do not obey the rules are required to make a self-critical speech during a meeting attended by villagers and local government officials. Those who refuse to make the speech and admit their wrongdoings are exposed on local television and other media platforms,” Cai said.

The new limits on weddings and funerals announced by Funing county’s government last week echo those imposed by Feixiang district in 2017.

“[A] newly-wedded couple should keep their wedding banquet under 20 tables and at a maximum of 200 guests,” the SCMP reported of the new rules. “The cost for each guest should be under 50 yuan (US$7.70) per person if it is held in a restaurant, and under 300 yuan (US$46) per table, if held at home. The number of vehicles used at a wedding should be no more than 10.”

Local Communist Party members in Funing are now required to “report wedding plans, including the location, time, guest list and cost to the [central Chinese] government in advance, and funeral details within 10 days after it’s held,” according to the SCMP.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2015 set a goal of eradicating extreme poverty in China by the end of 2020. Xi claimed that China had met this goal in November 2020 when he announced that the central government had “removed the last remaining counties from a list of poor regions” in China. Despite the Communist Party’s claims, extreme poverty remains prevalent throughout China, as evidenced by the new restrictions on weddings and funerals, which specifically limit the types and amount of food people are allowed to serve at gatherings.

The food-specific regulations are reminiscent of a law passed by the CCP’s rubber-stamp legislature in April requiring restaurants to fine patrons for leaving too much food leftover on their plates. The restrictions are linked to China’s ongoing food shortages, caused in part by massive flooding last fall across 27 of China’s 31 provinces. The floods likely wiped out major cereal harvests of wheat, corn, and rice across the affected provinces. China has also been suffering from extreme pork shortages after epidemics of African swine flu across Chinese pig farms halved the nation’s hog supply in the first eight months of 2019. A resurgence of African swine flu on Chinese pig farms this spring further threatens China’s pork supply.

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