Not such golden weeks
The mainland has firmly established the practice of having so-called 'golden weeks' every year, when most workplaces grind to a halt and workers go on holiday. The May 1 International Labour Day, October 1 National Day holidays and Lunar New Year see massive numbers of mainlanders travelling all over the country and overseas.
When the first golden week was launched in October 1999, it was conceived as a temporary measure to boost consumption. But it was considered such a success that an office under the China National Tourist Association was created to plan for two annual golden weeks.
Despite the improved planning, however, the May 1 and October 1 holidays remain a contrived exercise that puts enormous pressure on the country's inadequate tourism and transport facilities. It is time mainland authorities did something about it.
These golden weeks are contrived because, officially, only the first three days of May and October are public holidays. Those three-day blocks are extended to seven-day stretches by requiring employees to work more days in the preceding or following weekends.
This practice is particularly confusing to overseas businesses, which have access to only the official holiday schedule. It also virtually compels the majority of the population to go on leave at the same time. And it sends huge numbers of tourists to popular scenic spots during the same confined period, with damaging ecological consequences.
For example, Mount Huangshan, in Anhui province, records daily traffic of 32,000 travellers through its misty heights during the holidays. It's hard to imagine that the wildlife and century-old pine trees in the ecologically sensitive area are thriving under such intense human intrusion.
On the transport front, rows between irate customers and bad-tempered staff have become commonplace. This week, reports cited stranded travellers refusing to get off their planes, and fights breaking out between passengers and flight attendants. The country's buses, trains, planes and ferries can barely meet the demand on a normal day. So the golden weeks are stretching their capacities to the limit.
Last year, an official with the State Development Reform Commission informally floated a proposal to abolish the two contrived golden weeks. He suggested adopting a working week of six days, instead of the current five. The extra Saturdays worked would be turned into a mini-golden week of between four and five days at the end of every month. But the proposal was dismissed as impractical.
The underlying issue is that allowing workers to take paid leave at a time of their own choosing is still an uncommon practice on the mainland. Before the May 1 and October 1 golden weeks were created, workers could take an extended holiday only during the Lunar New Year.
Now a consensus is emerging that the ultimate solution lies in strictly enforcing labour laws that allow employees to take leave when it suits them. That would reduce the pressure to organise their holidays around May 1 and October 1.
This is surely the right way forward. As the mainland economy continues to grow, so too will the number of people with the capacity to travel. No amount of expanding the tourism and transport facilities could ever accommodate the growing demand. And boosting supply to meet peak demand is not an economical way to solve a problem.
For a place as populous as the mainland, demand management must form part of the solution. Allowing workers to take their holiday at will is one option. Another would be for the mainland to follow Hong Kong's practice of celebrating traditional festivals by designating them as public holidays, and arranging long weekends around them.
C.K. Lau is the Post's executive editor, policy