Are mooncakes innocent of politics? Apparently not in Hong Kong and mainland China

The recent protests in Hong Kong have gained its share of supporters and detractors, and sentiments have spilled over to impact businesses, for better or worse.
While Taipan mooncakes (left) have been removed from e-commerce sites and physical stores in mainland China, Maxim’s mooncakes (right) have become especially popular following comments by group chief Annie Wu against the actions of Hong Kong protesters. (Facebook)
While Taipan mooncakes (left) have been removed from e-commerce sites and physical stores in mainland China, Maxim’s mooncakes (right) have become especially popular following comments by group chief Annie Wu against the actions of Hong Kong protesters. (Facebook)

A segment that was aired on China Central Television (CCTV) on 7 September 2019 noted that with the Mid-Autumn Festival around the corner, many people will be buying mooncakes, but there is a question of principle involved, because “some mooncakes are ‘poisoned’ with support for the troubles in Hong Kong, while others have a ‘beautiful heart’. The internet community knows which to choose.”

The next day, People’s Daily ran a commentary saying it is clear to all that one type of mooncake is perfect, while one is flawed.

The mooncake with the “beautiful heart” is produced by Hong Kong’s Maxim’s Group (美心, literally “beautiful heart”). It has become a popular online search term in the past few days, with group chief Annie Wu Suk-ching appearing on CCTV, and dubbed “Lady Maxim’s” (美心大小姐) by official media.

annie wu
Ms Annie Wu, known as “Lady Maxim’s”. (CNS)

Annie Wu is the founder of the first joint venture enterprise since China’s reform and opening up. In 1980, she and her father, Hong Kong tycoon James Tak Wu, set up Beijing Air Catering Co. Ltd., the very first company to be registered in China as being funded by China and foreign capital. As the company’s registration number is 001, Ms Wu is also known as Miss 001.

As the first Hong Kong entrepreneur to make it big in the mainland China market, Ms Wu is not happy with the recent chaos in Hong Kong. On 25 August, in her interview with CCTV, Ms Wu said the recent violence in Hong Kong has seriously damaged Hong Kong’s image, and impacted its economy and the lives of its people. She advised Hong Kong’s young people not to participate in unlawful activities under foreign influences, but to widen their perspective and get a real understanding of the world around them, develop their careers, and do something truly meaningful.

Ms Wu has backed up her high-profile support for restoring order in Hong Kong by taking action to stop students from boycotting classes. A boycott of classes was organised on 3 September at The Chinese Foundation Secondary School, which Ms Wu founded. However, as the school’s founder and former supervisor, she met with students and staff to declare her disapproval of any strike by staff or boycott by students, and that any teacher or student who participated would be dismissed.

Ms Wu’s strong preventive measures is in line with the wishes of mainland China and the Hong Kong government, and in stark contrast with the ambiguous attitudes of many Hong Kong businessmen towards the current situation. Naturally, the official media in mainland China has thrown its support behind her, leading to the popularity of Maxim’s mooncakes among the internet community.

But while Maxim’s mooncakes are “perfect”, the snowskin mooncakes of another well-known Hong Kong brand - Taipan Bread and Cake - have received a heavy hit in the mainland China market, with People’s Daily calling them “flawed”.

It all began in late August when Garic Kwok, the son of the founder of Taipan, posted on social media in support of Hong Kongers turning out to form a human chain to symbolise protection of freedom, and shared images mocking the Hong Kong government and police. This was seen in China as support for the troublemakers in Hong Kong.

Although Taipan quickly issued a statement that the posts were entirely Mr Kwok’s own actions and did not represent the company’s stand, it was too late. Currently, searches for Taipan on China’s major e-commerce sites and yield no results, while Taipan products have also been pulled off the shelves at many physical stores in China.

The People’s Daily article said Ms Wu has always cared for the country, and clearly wants to protect the idea of “one country”. It added that she cares about educating Hong Kong’s youth to love the nation, working hard to push for a greater sense of nationhood among young people in Hong Kong. “This is the sort of sentiment that a Chinese mooncake brand should have, like the clarity of a Mid-Autumn night. Conversely, as an entrepreneur, you can stick to doing business, but do not push the limits when it comes to principles.” The message is that whoever fills mooncakes with “contraband” or publicly supports the troublemakers in Hong Kong will arouse public anger and be ostracised. “Whoever damages the flesh-and-blood ties between Hong Kong and the motherland will pay the price.”

maxims palace
People having dim sum at Maxim's Palace restaurant at City Hall in Central, Hong Kong on June 20, 2019. The Maxim’s Group has been praised for its stand against the recent protests in Hong Kong. (SPH)

The different fates of Maxim’s and Taipan in mainland China is indirect proof that politics and the market are closely linked, especially with the Hong Kong situation putting everybody on edge. Hong Kong businessmen who want to move into mainland China need to know something about politics and which lines cannot be crossed. Otherwise, even the innocent, non-political mooncake can go from perfect to flawed.


Mooncakes have had political connotations since the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It is said that these sweet pastries were used by the revolutionaries led by Zhu Yuanzhang to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China at the end of the Yuan dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang became the first emperor of the Ming dynasty.

Folklore has it that Zhu Yuanzhang and his supporters hid messages inside the sweet paste of mooncakes, or printed them on their surfaces, to organise the revolt against the Mongolians. To destroy the evidence? Just swallow the cakes.

This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao on 9 September 2019.