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The End of the Lavish Chinese Banquet

Are accountability and honesty about to make an appearance on the political scene in China? The new Chinese leadership looks like it’s going to take a crack at making it so:

Xinhua news agency says receptions for high-ranking officers will no longer feature luxury banquets or alcohol. The diktat, passed on 4 December, has also now sparked similar rules for civilian officials in Beijing. The Communist Party’s Central Committee, which includes civilian and military personnel, dictated eight ways that officials needed to change their working practices. In line with the diktat, the military has now ruled out welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements, and souvenirs. Officials will also no longer be allowed to stay in luxury hotels during inspection tours and vehicles will not be allowed to make excessive use of sirens.

Anyone who has been at an official Chinese banquet, with its sea of courses and ocean of booze, knows that this new policy is little short of a revolution. It will be interesting to see whether the new regulations are actually honored; sometimes impressive decrees issued in faraway Beijing don’t quite make it down to the local level.

The decree no doubt will get lots of good publicity in China, and it is an excellent first move. But the questions Chinese officials and foreign China watchers will be trying to answer are these: does the government really mean it, and does it have the power and discipline to enforce something like this on its own officials? The answers will tell us a lot about both the state of China today and the direction in which the country is headed.

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