Rethink needed on 'golden weeks'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2007, 12:00am

Yet again the 'golden week' holiday circus across the mainland is ending amid calls for the concept to be scrapped. This time the central government should heed the message. Nearly a decade after the three week-long national holidays - celebrating Lunar New Year, Labour Day and National Day - were created in 1999, the rationale behind them is ever harder to sustain. Far from promoting consumption amid the austerity of the regional financial crisis, which was the original idea, the weeks have become an impediment to an increasingly integrated, globalised economy.

Government offices shut for seven days, leaving domestic and international traders unable to clear routine customs, tax and licensing matters; retailers risk boom-and-bust cycles and factories struggle to meet orders before the shutdown and face a backlog on the return to work. Then there are the physical dangers as more than 1.3 billion people take a holiday at the same time. Tourist sites are crowded to dangerous levels; the death toll on the roads inevitably soars. Then there is concern about the spread of disease as so many bodies choke train stations and bus terminals as infrastructure is stretched to the limit.

The Labour Day celebration that ended yesterday once again saw transport records broken. Some 5.2 million people poured onto the nation's trains in a single day on May 1. If the internet is any guide, there is little popular sentiment towards the breaks. Chat rooms and websites bemoan the damage to the environment, the traffic jams and the over-riding sense of disorder. There is an argument for keeping the Lunar New Year break, but week-long holidays in May and October appear increasingly absurd, a throw-back to the worst bureaucratic excesses of central planning.

Delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference have previously proposed spreading the breaks across celebrations not currently accorded national holiday status, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival. Such ideas make perfect sense. The central government yesterday acknowledged the widespread calls to scrap 'golden weeks'. Let's hope they listen.