BEIJING, DEC. 1 -- The government reimposed pork and sugar rationing today in the Chinese capital only a month after the Communist Party held a major congress promising further economic reforms aimed at raising the country's living standards.
Beijing today joined a number of other Chinese cities in rationing pork, the main meat eaten in China. The rationing is intended to make up for shortages and prevent profiteers from reselling the meat at higher prices. The cities of Shanghai and Tianjin reintroduced pork rationing last week.
Grain and cooking oil have been rationed in China since the early 1950s, but the rationing of a number of items, including pork, was stopped in the early 1980s.
"This is not a good sign coming so soon after the congress," said one Chinese intellectual, surveying a nearly empty meat counter at the Dongdan food market.
A dozen Chinese gazed in consternation at three cuts of lean pork on the counter. Only two persons in the group, an elderly man and an elderly woman, were qualified to buy pork in this market, and what they bought was meant to last for an entire month.
Each was allowed one kilogram -- about 2.2 pounds -- of lean meat at a price of 5 yuan -- about $1.35.
Beijing also reimposed rationing on sugar today, allowing each three-person family a kilogram of sugar per month.
Pork accounts for more than 80 percent of China's meat consumption, but according to the municipal government, increases in the raising of pigs have not kept up with population growth.
Some economic analysts said the main reason for the pork rationing is a scarcity of feed grains. The government's failure to pay farmers a fair price for grain has caused many farmers to turn to other crops.
An irrational pricing system is at the heart of many of China's current economic problems, but the government is delaying further price reforms for fear that such changes will trigger inflation.
Meanwhile, the official New China News Agency said the municipal government has decided to provide incentives to encourage more pig-raising in the suburbs of Beijing.
The national government, for its part, has decided to allocate 3 million tons of grain for pig-raising, 10 percent of which will go to the capital alone, the news agency said.
At the Dongdan market, a small sign on the wall behind the meat counter announced that beginning today, pork and sugar are to be rationed and that city residents should buy these commodities with their ration cards. Rationing coupons are to be distributed.
Shoppers' reactions fell short of outrage. Some even took the news with good humor. Chinese have experienced rationing before, and the variety of foods available now is much greater than it was a few years ago.