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.