Posted by: thelocaldialect | May 5, 2009

Golden Week to Golden Day

May 1st was Friday, a holiday known as May Day, or International Labor Day, an occasion which, in China, has always meant a week’s vacation, at least until now. Recently China has stepped up her efforts to celebrate more traditional, Chinese holidays, which means that this year instead of our big “Golden Week” of vacation, we have three smaller, three day weekend type holidays. The first of these was Qing Ming, the traditional tomb sweeping festival, the second May Day, and the third, several weeks from now, will be Duan Wu, the Dragon Boat festival. While I can appreciate the gesture, it seems to be too little too late at this point. In the cities most people don’t celebrate Qing Ming festival, especially since their ancestor’s gravesites are usually somewhere in the countryside, often far, far away. My husband’s parents are buried back in Yunnan and we’re in Beijing, so of course there was no grave sweeping for us. Qing Ming consisted of taking an extra few minutes at dinnertime to make an offering to his parents’ pictures, lighting some incense, and saying a few words for them. Celebrating it was important for my husband, but it hardly necessitated a day off of work. The other traditional festival, Duan Wu, or Dragon Boat Festival, is much more important in some parts of China than in others, but in modern times the main feature of this celebration is eating a special meal.

Most people I have talked to would rather, in all honesty, have their week of vacation back. China is apparently re-thinking this strategy as well, since cutting out the May Golden Week also means cutting out a lot of spending. The two Chinese Golden Weeks (the other is in October, and remains intact) were originally instituted in order to stimulate the economy, to encourage people to take to the road, to travel, and to spend money. Nothing gets people burning through their Maos faster than a week outside the office, away from home, eating out, taking trains and planes and busses, paying for overpriced souveniers, and living out of hotels. The government has started to realize that for 3 day weekends most people simply stay at home, since there really isn’t enough time to do anything important. My students also grumbled about the lack of a Golden Week, seeing as they’re at a boarding school, and a week’s vacation gives them a much needed opportunity to visit home. I’ve heard talk about reinstating the May Golden Week next year, but this is all rumor at this point.

So which is more important? Stimulating the economy, giving students a nice, long break (especially since come June, exam season starts and the students will be pulling massive all nighters with hardly enough time to breathe), or honoring the traditional holidays which, while today may only be celebrated in the most cursory of ways, still deserve recognition as being part of China’s cultural heritage? I don’t really know the answer. Selfishly, I want my Golden Week, but I admire China for bringing back the old holidays, especially since as few as 30 years ago the country seemed hell-bent on destroying them.

What public holidays does your country give? Traditional festivals, or modern holidays, or a mixture of both?


  1. I remember hearing at one time talk of doing away with the Golden Weeks altogether and just giving everyone vacation days to do with as they please. Did you hear about that? What do you think of that idea? Would it even work here? I find traveling during Spring Festival or the Golden Weeks so stressful, I’d rather stay home, but that’s just me!

    BTW, I suggested your blog for this collection of female China bloggers: (hope you don’t mind!)

  2. Thanks for suggesting me!

    Actually, I’ve heard about the move to make the holidays less collective, but nothing recently. I think that the main problem would be ensuring that employers actually grant the holiday time that they’re supposed to. They’re bad enough about it as it is, I think that if the leave time was up to the employees to request, you might end up with a lot of people not taking their holidays. I think the Golden Weeks sort of enforce holidays for people who might not otherwise get them (even though a lot of people still end up shafted out of their holidays). But they are a pain indeed!!

  3. I didn’t even think of that, but I can see how Golden Weeks would serve as a way for employees to get their holidays. I’ve seen this in the company I work for. The employees really do not have too much say so in how things go and I can imagine the situation must be similar in other companies. Not only with holidays, some of the employees were only paid 75% of their salary last month and no one could complain. It’s sad.

  4. Hi,
    I’ve enjoyed looking over your blog. I came to it because I have a Chinese friend who is back in Beijing and very sad that she had to leave the U.S. after only six months here. She had visa issues due to poor work by an American lawyer. Anyway, she is heartbroken that she will not be allowed by her company to return to the U.S. and that the English she picked up with be worthless. I’ve been trying to encourage her. I don’t think she will take structured classes, but I was hoping to find someone who she could speak with even once a week as she did with us, in a group, Talk Time, here in the U.S. So that’s how I came across your blog, searching for something like this. I realize you are not the person to help with this, but I wonder if you could make any suggestions. Is there anywhere expat Americans hang out? Is there someone you know who is in her twenties who might like to meet Giona and talk with her? Any thoughts you have would be very appreciated. Feel free to email me if you have any ideas and THANK YOU!

    • I’ve only been in Beijing a year, and since I’m sort of in family-mode these days I don’t really know where the BJ expat hangouts are. I would encourage her to keep up her English, however, its far from useless. Many Chinese people spend loads of money out of pocket each month on English lessons, which, they feel, will improve their chances at landing a good job. There are tons of English schools here in Beijing that employ foreigners to teach Chinese people English, so she might look into lessons, or try hanging around the many universities in the area and offering a language exchange. There are foreign students here studying Chinese and she may find someone willing to exchange Chinese lessons for English lessons.

  5. Hmmm it’s a tricky one. Here in Japan we have three big breaks. Golden Week in May, Obon in August and New Year in January. Of the three Golden Week is the only one without pressure to go back to your home town/ family and pay respects. I find more and more people (especially younger people) have very little idea *why* the day is a holiday. It doesn’t help that some of the days have had their names changed to drop association with the war (Emperor Hirohito’s bday is now called Green Day to celebrate the environment)

    Golden Week varies in lustre depending on the year. If the days fall on weekends you can end up with a holiday, a work day then two more holidays kind of thing.

    I think the economic value of the holidays is undoubted, even in this recession flights were booked solid and resort areas saw visitor numbers up.

    I do think it’s a pity that even during Obon (the traditional ancestor worship holiday) overseas travel surges. Seems the chance to spend a week in Hawaii eats out washing great grandfather’s grave. Mind you, the numbers of Japanese going to Hawaii Great grandfather’s spirit might be sunning itself at Waikiki anyway!

  6. Nothing fills me with as much fear as traveling during a holiday when everyone else is traveling.

    That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m the type to stay at home every July 4th, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc ’cause I hate to be on the roads.

    That being said, I’d much rather have a week’s vacation than three or four three-day weekends.

  7. Fuka, I feel the same way. It is sort of sad that we have these traditional festivals but no one really properly celebrates them except old ladies and peasants (I feel so wrong every time I write that word, but “poor people who live in the countryside” is a bit cumbersome). My students are more interested in their (twisted version of) Christmas than in Qing Ming — which is like Obon — or Duan Wu.

    Gori: I’m generally with you. When I had employers that would give leave outside of national holidays I’d almost always try to schedule it at a time where traveling would not be a huge, massive, billion cars on the road type hassle. But even then it was a bit of a tough call, because I could tack on my week of paid vacation to an already mandated holiday and end up with like 2 weeks off, which was nice. I went to Laos in 2006 with just such a holiday. International travel is always an option I guess.

  8. Hi there Jessica, I followed you from Sara’s blog- I don’t very much follow any of the cultural holidays but I’ll look forward to any days that are a vacation day and a chance to relax, I am not sure what holidays I “REALLY” enjoy here in Japan that are Japanese…. Obon maybe..

  9. Haven’t heard from you in awhile – hope things are going well!

    I found a blog that you might be interested in…

  10. Great Blog, you should submit it too The Expat Directory:

  11. Hi GirlJapan, thanks for coming by my blog! Sorry I have just now gotten back to you, I haven’t been able to access my own blog without a proxy, and not all proxies work, so it is sort of hit and miss. When I find one that works I try and do an update!

    GG, I dropped by your blog and tried to sign up for your new forums, but couldn’t make a new post for some reason? Kept getting an error. I’ll try again. Hope things are well with you, thanks for the link!

    Ted, I’ll do that, thanks!

  12. Sorry to hear about your connection troubles… I’m not sure what the problem could be – perhaps try logging out then logging back in?

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