New Labor Laws, New National Holidays

Those of us who have been working in China for a few years are used to our three “Golden Week” holidays — weeklong vacation periods during Spring Festival, May Day, and National Day. Now, regardless of the festival being celebrated, for Chinese people, the character of a “Golden Week” has always been “travel travel travel shop shop shop.” (That is, for those Chinese who actually get to celebrate the holiday rather than wind up working overtime — but that’s another post.) For foreigners, “Golden Weeks” may be utilized like any long holiday — we may take a trip across the country, throw a lot of parties, or just sleep in every day for a week or so.

2008 is bringing a big change to this tradition, however, since the new Chinese labor laws have gone into effect and have reorganized the national holidays. Gone is the May Day “Golden Week” [and National Day “Golden Week” too — see the post below] — perhaps because the government is aware of the irony that no actual blood-and-sweat workers can enjoy their labor day holiday — and in its place Chinese have a single day holiday for May Day as well as a number of one-day holidays that correspond to festival days, namely, Tomb-Sweeping Day in spring, the Dragon Boat Festival in summer, and Mid-Autumn Day in fall.

In the past I always wondered why these festivals, especially Mid-Autumn Day, didn’t rate an actual national holiday. Mid-Autumn Day is often likened to Thanksgiving, but this comparison was more correct in the past, when Chinese people had time to travel back home for family reunions or cook feasts for their families. At the same time, Mid-Autumn Day is a heavily commercialized festival, perhaps second to Spring Festival in terms of its economic importance. Giving people a national holiday to lug all those mooncakes around just makes sense.

However, most foreigners will ignore little cultural details like this for the bottom line: our long May holiday is gone, but we get a few days off at different points in the year. It goes without saying that foreigners who aren’t familiar with the new labor laws might be unpleasantly surprised if they’re planning a May Day vacation this year.

Update: The above post was based on communication with my new employers, but according to some new information, it seems the National Day Golden Week also got the axe. This means that some of Chris’s concerns in the comments here should be assuaged, though it also means China’s holiday days have been cut overall from 16 days* (three five-day holidays and one one-day holiday) down to 10 days. This kind of cut should be deeply felt in China, since many employers expect overtime work on Saturdays and/or Sundays.

Update two: While foreigners in Tianjin seem to be unanimous in claiming that National Day has been cut to one day, Chinese friends are telling me a different story. My university students say that National Day will remain a weeklong holiday and May Day will be a three-day holiday. But other Chinese friends say May Day will only be one day and National Day will be unchanged.

Confused, I looked for more information online. I found a single unsourced blog post that claimed that National Day will remain a “Golden Week” while the other holidays mentioned here will actually be three days long. The always-reliable China Daily has nothing on the subject, just an article predicting that “Golden Weeks” will be phased out. Not so helpful. Other websites seem to support the original material of this post, but no official announcements of the new holidays seem to have been made — at least in Englsh.

In all, this seems like a good case study of how murky the promulgation of rules and regulations can be in China.

* Note that only 10 of these days are actually paid holidays.


14 thoughts on “New Labor Laws, New National Holidays

  1. I don’t know about tradition- the three Golden Weeks were only introduced in 1999, and then specifically to boost domestic spending and therefore the economy.

    As for the disappearance of the May Day Golden Week, I can’t help but suspect creeping Nationalism. National Day went untouched.

    Thing is, for students and teachers, a National Day Golden Week makes very little sense, coming only 1 month after the start of semester, but a May Day Golden Week makes perfect sense, falling pretty much smack in the middle of the semester. Well, I think school holidays need to be organised separately from national holidays anyway, but that’s a whole different issue.

  2. Eh, I meant it’s only tradition for foreigners working in China the past few years. But I agree with you about the bad timing of National Day holiday. Because my uni started later than the rest, last year I taught classes for one week before the holiday began. It made that first week of classes seem like a throwaway week.

    That said, to use the word tradition again, having a multi-day National Day holiday makes sense because so many Chinese believe in the tradition of going to Beijing to watch the flag being raised in Tiananmen. Is it creeping nationalism? Maybe.

  3. I’ve got no complaint about public holiday for National Day, not at all. Every country does it, or at least every country should do it. It’s the scrapping of the May Day/International Labour Day Golden Week, and yet the keeping of the National Day Golden Week that had me wondering.

  4. No, I’m pretty sure the National Day and Chunjie Golden Weeks would be retained, May Day cut to three days, and the traditional holidays added. But as you said in that second update, it is all very murky and we’ll find out as the holidays happen.

  5. Chris, do you think there’s any chance that May Day might be one day for most people but three days for universities? This year I’ve already seen a Western New Year (元旦) holiday that was three days at Polytech but only one day at private companies.

  6. The dates for 2008 have already been officially announced and are readily findable on the Chinese web (Google search: 2008最新的放假日期). The “single source” you linked above is probably correct (I haven’t checked it in detail). Here’s a Chinese source:

    Which basically says:

    New Year: 1 day vacation, plus a weekend (3 total)
    Chinese New Year: 3 days, plus a two weekends (7 total)
    Grave Day: 1 day, plus a weekend (3 total)
    Labor Day: 1 day, plus a weekend (3 total)
    Dragon Boat: 1 day, plus a weekend (3 total)
    Mid-Autumn: 1 day, plus a weekend (3 total)
    National Day: 3 days, plus two weekends (7 total)

    Notice that the Labor Day vacation has been shortened, but that National Day is intact. Now there are a total of 11 vacation days, one more than before the change.

    Supposedly next year the National Day Holiday is getting the ax as well, not sure where they’d add back the days that they take away.

    I was in charge of designing the academic calendar for our K-12 int’l school this year, and needless to say that exactly as you predicted some of the less flexible teachers are pissed about losing the May Holiday. I told them to complain to their representative in the National People’s Congress.

  7. Micah, thanks for the comment, it clears some things up. Note that I only looked at English websites because* it was curious that the new holidays weren’t widely and clearly known among foreigners working or doing business here. Note that the unsourced blog post doesn’t spell out the holidays as clearly as you did.

    The strange thing about the holiday list you have is the Chinese law’s inclusion of weekends, which has no connection to the actual reality of a holiday like spring festival which, in Tianjin, entails Chinese working Saturday and maybe also Sunday, then getting five days off, before having to work Saturday and maybe Sunday again. A related question, if a holiday like 清明节 falls in the middle of the week, how could it be a three-day holiday?

    * I was also a little lazy and pressed for time.

  8. I’m not sure (and I’m not sure if “they” are sure either) what would happen if it falls on a Wednesday, but I assume that if a holiday falls on Thursday or Tuesday there would be no second-thoughts about making Saturday or Sunday a work day. Ugh. As calendar-committee chairperson one of my plans was as few weekend workdays as possible. Hate ’em.

    This year two of the holidays fall on Sunday; Sunday gets made the official holiday, and Monday turns into what Sunday would have been, a “public rest day” (公休日). The other holiday is on Friday; no changes there.

  9. Ha, weekend work days before and after holidays used to annoy the crap out of foreign teachers at my university, so most of them simply refused to teach or arranged travel plans so they’d be gone when they should teach.

    In all practicality, though, I don’t think businesses will honor the public rest day. I assume there’s some kind of overtime penalty they should pay to workers on that day? I know for instance that my school will only close on the holidays themselves and not any days before or after.

  10. Doesn’t “one day plus a weekend” mean that if the holiday falls on a Wednesday, a weekend is moved to give three consecutive days off? Hence the weekend workdays?

    As for honouring the public rest day: Isn’t it a nationally mandated holiday? I’m sure plenty of businesses will ignore it (and let’s face it, anybody working in hospitality or tourism is screwed), but still… national regulation, and all…

    I’m just glad that my boss is so far sticking to his long-standing practice of saying to hell with the weekend catch-ups for the holidays. So far.

  11. Chris, I think how the law is actually practiced all remains to be seen. Like I said, it’s murky.

    About that public rest day: if Chinese law already states that Sunday is a public rest day (how Christian of them), then this means employers will certainly make employees work on a similar holiday day, since many companies keep their employees working all weekend long already.

    (One difference seems to be universities and public institutions, since they did honor the 3-day New Year holiday this year, whereas private institutions did not.)

  12. I’m just glad that my boss is so far sticking to his long-standing practice of saying to hell with the weekend catch-ups for the holidays. So far.

    This is what we do/did at our school. That’s why the teachers are so miffed – this year we’ve gone from a 9-day Labor Day vacation (two weekends plus five days between) to a 3-day vacation (Thu-Fri-Sat).

    I’m surprised to hear that businesses didn’t respect the New Year holiday up north. As far as I know, Shanghai businesses did give that Sun-Mon-Tue off.

  13. Is Sunday a legal public rest day? If so, then for who? Clearly, shops, restaurants, hotels, etc, don’t observe it, and I presume more than a few factory managers would take a Beetles approach and have their workers going eight days a week if possible, but office workers in both the private and public sectors seem to get the holidays that are mandated. At least, that’s my experience.

    Oh, and this is the first year since I escaped Taiyuan that I’ve seen privately run restaurants close for Spring Festival.

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