The mainland's "golden week" holidays were sold by authorities as being about taking a break, relaxing and having fun. But as in the past, the government-mandated eight-day vacation for the Mid-Autumn festival and National Day was mostly about chaos and frustration. Clogged roads and public transport, crowded tourist attractions and shops, and higher prices meant many people wished they had stayed at home and worked. Companies and investors bemoaned being out of sync with the rest of the world through the closure of stock and commodity markets and the shutting of offices and factories.
The "golden week" concept was introduced in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis to encourage spending. Employees were forced to take a week off work three times a year for the Lunar New Year and labour and national days. The economy has since grown dramatically, consumerism spurred and the nation is considerably wealthier. Unsurprisingly, people now want to take holidays when they want, not when they are told to.
Pressure led in 2009 to the Labour Day "golden week" being broken into three shorter holidays spread over the year. In a nod to culture, tradition and family values, days off were designated for the Ching Ming, Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn festivals. The move has proven so successful that there are now calls to scrap the National Day vacation. Common sense says the demands should be heeded.
Evidence of why was seen at the start and end of the latest holiday. With economic growth in decline, authorities hit on the idea of scrapping road tolls as an inducement for families to leave home. Infrastructure already struggles to cope with traffic at peak times and it is at breaking point during "golden week", when more than 500 million people are on the move. With an extra 13.3 per cent travelling on the first day this year compared to last, chaos reigned, with traffic backed up 30 kilometres in some places, expressways looking like car parks and frustration rife.
National holidays should be about culture, customs and remembering major historic events. There is none more significant than the new year and a week is understandably set aside. The founding of the People's Republic is an important occasion, but it is questionable whether there needs to be more than a day of celebration. It would be better to allow employees to take those days as they see fit, at a time that suits them rather than central planners. Flexible holidays are best for the nation.