Labor Day in China Posted by sasha on Apr 30, 2013 in Culture
Tomorrow is a national holiday here in China – Labor Day (劳动节 – láo dòng jié). Known more colloquially as “May Day” (五一节 – wǔ yī jié), this holiday always falls on May 1st. Actually, May 1st is International Labor Day, as it is an official holiday in over 80 countries. Until 2008, this was once one of three “Golden Weeks” (黄金周 – huáng jīn zhōu) in China, along with the Spring Festival and National Holiday. At that time, the government thought it would be a good idea to have three week-long holidays to encourage domestic travel and spending. However, the policy did not achieve the desired results, and they actually found the long holidays to be more of an economic drain than anything. As a result, the Labor Day was reduced to a one-day holiday, and three additional national holidays were added – the Tomb Sweeping, Dragon Boat, and Mid-Autumn Festivals. This new calendar was adopted in hopes of restoring some ancient Chinese traditions while preventing overcrowding during the long holidays.
Actually, the entire holiday system of China is quite befuddling to an outsider, and I (along with every other foreigner I know who lives and works here) get frustrated and confused around the holidays. Let me try to explain it to you in a simplistic way by using this year’s Labor Day as an example:
- The actual national holiday is Wednesday, May 1st, and most people are off on that day.
- To make it a 3-day weekend instead of a one-day holiday in the middle of the week, most people were also off yesterday on the 29th and today on the 30th.
- In order to get Monday and Tuesday off this week, most people worked this past Saturday and Sunday.
If that sounds a bit stupid to you, that’s because it is. People just finished a 7-day workweek, and then they get three days off in a row before going back to work for two and then having a normal weekend. There’s no such thing as a normal three or four-day weekend here in the Middle Kingdom. That has taken some getting used to here as an American who grew up accustomed to such weekends for Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. After working for seven days in a row, you’d think that a lot of people would be stoked about the chance to get three days off, relax, and possibly get out of town. Think again. Traveling during May Day is still complete chaos, as I can attest to from my hotel room in Dalian (大连 – dà lián), a coastal city in the Northeast region of China (东北 – dōng běi). Plane, train, and bus tickets are all hard to come by this time of year, hotels jack up their prices, and tourist destinations are packed to the brim with people. So much for a relaxing holiday!
A CCTV news bit from today about the holiday.
Luckily for me, I work in a foreign owned company that does not abide by the Chinese holiday standards. As such, I was able to finagle four consecutive days off without having to work for a week straight to make up for it. I know, I have it too easy here. Actually, in all my years of living in China, this is the first time I’ve actually gone on a trip over May Day. As I am most likely leaving Beijing and heading way down to Yunnan province at the end of this year, I figured now was as good a time as any to finally check this city out and cross Liaoning province (辽宁省 – liáo níng shěng) off my list. I’d love to someday be able to say that I’ve visited every province in China, and I don’t want to get to the point where I’ve been everywhere but Liaoning and I live on the complete opposite end of the country, because let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t come back up this way. Plus, it’s Labor Day, and dammit I’ve worked (somewhat) hard over the past year. Too bad I’m going to need a vacation from this vacation when it’s all said and done…
Stay tuned to the blog next month as I regale you with tales and videos from this trip, including my horror story of a Chinese tour group I was suckered into joining yesterday. I hope that sharing my painful experience with all of you will at least help some people avoid a similar travel disaster in the future. In the meantime, you can read an interesting opinion article from an actual Chinese person about why the Labor Day Golden Week should be restored. Or, to really practice your Chinese, you can check out this entry on nciku which is written in both English and Chinese.
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