Water bottles China
Employees stock cartons of bottled mineral water in front of a supermarket in Mianyang, Sichuan province July 26, 2011. Reuters

Next week, China’s top brass from all over the country will be gathering in the nation’s capital, Beijing, for the annual parliamentary meeting known as the National People’s Congress. In the past, the event, while mostly just a rubber-stamp meeting to confirm decisions that have been already made, had the city bringing out their finest liquor and foods and rolling out the red carpet. But not this time.

In fact, this year’s meeting will be decidedly no-frills, as the nationwide austerity drive initiated by President Xi Jinping continues. Gone are the days of dinner menus filled with exotic and expensive dishes like shark fin and abalone, which cost about 2,000 yuan, or roughly $325, a portion. Instead, many restaurants have quietly removed all expensive items from their menus and are now only serving “regular dishes.”

Each year, before the national conference, local legislators and advisers would hold their own sessions in preparation. Compared to the year prior, these meetings were particularly stripped down this year. “Suddenly, for the welcome party, we were shown home-style dinner buffets. So many people were having to share food, there wasn’t much to eat,” one delegate attending the Chongqing provincial political consultative conference told the South China Morning Post.

“The year before it was so different. We even had a band performing at the welcome dinner,” he said. “This year they just played recorded music.”

Another attendee, a member of the Huizhou political consultative conference, also described the dinner meetings as “simple and frugal.”

But Beijing’s campaign against wastefulness and extravagance doesn’t stop there. A senior staff member at the Beijing International Hotel, one of several locations where some meetings will be held, told the Beijing Times that hotel staff were instructed by authorities to distribute water bottles marked with each delegate’s name, and not to give out additional bottles until they were finished.

The new waste-cutting measure made waves on Chinese social media, making the search for “Real-name registration system for bottled water” a top-searched item on popular microblog platform, Weibo, yesterday.

Last year, “eight rules” against extravagance were introduced as one of President Xi’s first directives in power. The ban included souvenirs, reception ceremonies and gourmet meals.

A source told the newspaper that the government rolled out new NPC meeting-specific guidelines this year for local businesses to help control costs, cut waste and curb extravagance during the upcoming sessions. Water bottle directives were not explicitly included.