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September 20, 2017

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China takes aim at exclusive park eateries

BEIJING--For years, the sumptuous Scholarly House restaurant and its compound of pavilions in the center of Beijing's Dragon Lake Park has been off-limits to most park goers, catering to wealthy businessmen and government officials.

But now it has been forced to throw open its gates to the public, one of many ritzy restaurants and private clubs in public parks that have become the latest targets of an austerity campaign by the government to curb lavish banquets for party cadres — considered a breeding ground of corruption.

On a recent afternoon, curious visitors ventured over zig-zagging walkways over the water and peeked at locked-up buildings, seeing their reflections in the mirrored windows.

"What were they doing inside that they didn't want others to see?" one woman asked with indignation. "That's what our public servants are like!" retorted another park goer.

The campaign initiated last year by Chinese leader Xi Jinping has ordered these oases of exclusivity to either close down or revamp themselves as hang outs for common people. The moves won't stop favor-seeking businesspeople from seeking new, more covert venues to treat Chinese officials to banquets, but they are aimed at soothing public resentment while the Communist Party seeks longer-term solutions to pervasive corruption.

"They cannot close all the fancy restaurants in the streets, but members of the public detest the ones in the parks the most, because parks are where they exercise, play and relax," said law professor Jiang Ming'an at Peking University.

The Scholarly House is turning off its kitchen stoves later this month after the Chinese New Year's holiday, a receptionist who gave her family name of Yu said over the phone. "Our location is not so good," she said.

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