Lunar New Year travellers look for seats aboard a crowded train bound for the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, a journey of 32 hours, at the West Railway Station in Beijing on Jan. 31, 2013. (ED JONES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Nothing offends a Chinese employee more than canceling the annual lunar New Year party — a rare chance to eat, drink and win a free iPad or iPhone, courtesy of the boss.

But the austerity drive launched by the new Chinese leadership of Xi Jinping, coupled with the economic slowdown, has led government departments and state-owned enterprises across China to cancel or radically scale back New Year festivities this year — the equivalent of office Christmas parties in the West, but often far more lavish. Lunar New Year begins this year on Feb. 10, but banqueting season is normally in full swing at least a fortnight before.

Some multinational companies say they are struggling to find any government officials willing to be wined and dined, as they scramble to respond to a fresh call for frugality from Beijing, part of the leadership’s anti-corruption drive.

Even private companies are getting in on the austerity act, with some opting to hold their lunar New Year parties at fast-food restaurants, prompting a backlash from employees on social networking sites. Everyone from caterers to florists to purveyors of fine Chinese wines or watches report that their revenues have been affected by the wave of asceticism.

CIC, China’s $500 billion sovereign wealth fund, opted not to hold a New Year party this year. One employee said: “We have never been extravagant in our nianhui [New Year parties] and actually had a really good year last year. I can understand if they wanted to do a smaller nianhui, but none at all is going too far.”

PetroChina, the state-owned oil producer, said some of its celebrations had been canceled or scaled back. Sinopec, China’s largest oil refiner, said annual celebrations at its headquarters and at some of its subsidiaries had been canceled. Two years ago,Sinopec claimed that its year-end party, which included comedy skits and singing and dancing routines by staff members, was held to encourage the “spiritual life” of employees.

In Shanghai, employees from branches of the Agricultural Bank of China and Pudong Development Bank said their year-end festivities did not take place.

One florist at the Shanghai Chengzhuang Florist Company, which supplies flowers to hotels and restaurants where business is normally boosted by the parties, said that they were “greatly” affected by the cancellations and that their business had been halved from last year.

On Sina Weibo, the microblogging site, one employee posted pictures of her company’s year-end party at Pizza Hut, while another complained that her company party at a five-star hotel took place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and offered only the most meager sustenance: “No gifts, no lunch, no set plate . . . no tea or coffee offered. Everyone only got a mini bottle of mineral water.”

— Financial Times

Simon Rabinovitch, Leslie Hook and Jamil Anderlini contributed to this report.