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Page last updated at 05:28 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Chinese warned off lavish gifts

By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Beijing

Red lanterns on sale in Chungking, China Dec 08
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Chinese officials have been warned not to use the important Lunar New Year holiday next month as an excuse to give each other expensive gifts.

The Year of the Ox which begins on 26 January is likely to be one of the most difficult the Chinese economy has faced in a decade.

The Communist Party corruption watchdog has reminded officials they should be living a frugal life.

The Chinese are starting to plan parties to mark the Lunar New Year.

Gift giving is common, not just in families but between businesses and their clients.

Each year too the Communist Party exhorts its officials to avoid conspicuous consumption.

This year it is more important than ever.

Conflict of interests

"Feasts, sightseeing and gift giving with government money are absolutely forbidden," the state news agency has reported.

China's economic growth has slowed dramatically.

Factories are closing, people are losing their jobs.

China's leaders are already worried about maintaining public order in the face of such challenges.

Complaints about officials' corruption are common here and the hardship caused by the economic slowdown is likely to make people even more sensitive to officials' largesse as the end of the year approaches.

But the Lunar New Year is China's most important holiday.

Official dinners and gift giving are common. It is a hard habit to break.

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