'Golden week' holidays have lost their shine

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2007, 12:00am

Mainland workers should be feeling refreshed and relaxed after the third and last 'golden week' holiday of the year. But if anecdotal evidence is any guide, many are already in need of another break. The reason is not because they have lost the will to work and make money, but because of the stress of the forced vacation.

During each golden week - for the Lunar New Year and Labour and National days - authorities stipulate that all workers are to have a holiday. That means that half a billion people are potentially on the move at the same time. It puts enormous strain on scenic spots, the hotel and catering industries, and often rickety infrastructure. Roads are jammed, buses and trains packed, and there is only elbow-room at attractions.

The holidays are also problematic beyond the mainland's borders. While in Hong Kong we welcome the boost to our tourism, last week we also experienced unexpected stock market volatility - apparently because with the mainland exchanges closed, speculators had taken the opportunity to trade in shares here.

The closing down of mainland China for a week three times a year is also disruptive for the wider world. China is integral to the global economy and the closure of factories and offices throws into confusion orders and schedules. Unsurprisingly, as the wealth of mainland people grows and China becomes ever more important globally, calls for an end to the golden week concept get louder. Authorities should take heed and implement a more sensible, flexible system, such as permitting employees to take annual leave when they want to.

Golden weeks were introduced in 1999 with the aim of boosting consumption. Although that was just eight years ago, the rampant everyday consumerism among increasingly affluent mainlanders now makes the idea outdated. There is no reason why the most important occasion on the Chinese calendar, the Lunar New Year, should not remain a time for relaxation with family and friends. As culture becomes ever more appreciated, other traditional events, such as the dragon boat and mid-autumn festivals should also warrant national holidays.

The social harmony leaders are so eager for is at odds with the chaos during the just-ended National Day golden week. Allowing people to take holidays at their leisure and have greater participation in their cultural heritage will go some way towards ensuring this aim.

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