On Moon Cake Economics

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, a day late. I managed to get out of eating moon cakes this year. (Whew! My moon cake eating contest days are behind me…)

Photos of Shanghai residents lining up to buy moon cakes (月饼), rain or shine (but always with umbrellas), from Jing’an Temple in the month leading up to Mid-Autumn Festival:

Jing'an Temple Moon Cake Sales

Jing'an Temple Moon Cake Sales

I’m not going to say much on economics, but this whole “moon cake economy” thing strikes me as quite interesting. While in a taxi the other night, a guest on a radio talk show made some interesting points:

1. The value of moon cake coupons has exceeded the value of the moon cakes themselves.

2. Some people eat moon cakes, but a lot of people just pass them around, gifting and regifting. (The actual quote was: “买的不吃,吃的不买,” literally, “those who buy them, don’t eat them, and those who eat them don’t buy them.”)

3. As the moon cake economy evolves, more and more products are being used as substitutes, such as ice cream moon cakes, soft mochi moon cakes, non-traditional cake as moon cakes, etc.

It’ll be interesting to see where this tradition goes in the next ten years. Will the Chinese try hard to preserve it as is, or will they morph into into something else?

Related links:

Mooncake becomes the fruitcake of China – L.A. Times, 2011
Mooncake economics – Global Times, 2011
A black market for mooncakes in China – Marketplace, 2010


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. 买的不吃,吃的不买。 Couldn’t be more true.

    100% of the mooncakes gifted to employees at my work are usually eaten by 20% of the people. The other 80% of people simply pass them along to the eaters.

    I however, am not an eater…

  2. We used to think mooncakes were awesome when we lived in Taiwan, because the first kinds we had were the newer kinds: ice cream, chocolate, etc. Then we moved to Tianjin and were like, “Hey, wait a minute…”

  3. The mooncakes I had in Shenyang were just awesome. I couldn’t eat enough, but than it’s true that I didn’t buy most of them. I started buying them few days after the mid-autumn festival when the price fell dramatically.

  4. Not the biggest mooncake fan here, sorry to say. When you think about it, it is kind of similar to how fruitcake (at Christmas, etc.) is viewed in the West….

    • “it is kind of similar to how fruitcake (at Christmas, etc.) is viewed in the West….”

      Viewed in North America, perhaps. I don’t think Europeans have a problem with fruitcake. In any case, Brits would think of Christmas pudding at Christmas, and are more likely to over-indulge than complain!

  5. I rather liked moon cakes, but I haven’t been able to find any good ones the last couple years. I guess if you direct customers don’t actually eat them, you don’t really need to worry about how they taste.

  6. Wow, didn’t know people in China queue up in the open for moon cakes! Here in Malaysia, it is usually shopping in comfort in air-conditioned supermarkets for 跃饼. But 买的不吃, 吃的不买 is also so true here.

  7. Sorry, should be 月饼.

  8. […] I feel your pain. But this kind (fresh!) is actually decent. I hear that is the kind people line up all day to […]

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