Mainland China should adopt flexible holidays to cut chaos
It does not matter who is right about the chaos at one of China's most famous natural attractions on Wednesday - angry visitors who said too many people were allowed in or the authorities who blamed tourists for blocking roads and obstructing shuttle buses. The scenes in Sichuan's Jiuzhaigou Valley were simply the latest example of how the mainland's "golden week" holidays have descended into logistical nightmares in which hundreds of millions on the move stretch the nation's infrastructure to breaking point.
Thousands were stranded for hours inside the 73,000-hectare park after shuttle buses failed to show up. Known for its waterfalls, lakes and snow-capped peaks, the park bans private transport and tourists rely on electric shuttle buses.
Many stay-at-home commentators were unsympathetic about the park visitors' misery, with some blaming them for having travelled at all during golden week. The golden week concept, introduced for the Spring Festival, National Day and Labour Day after the Asian financial crisis to encourage spending, was supposed to be about taking a break and relaxing. As Chinese have become more mobile and prosperous, it has instead become synonymous with congested roads that resemble car parks, clogged public transport, crowded tourist attractions and shops, and higher prices.
This resulted in the Labour Day golden week being broken up in 1999 into shorter holidays spread over the year to mark the Ching Ming, Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn festivals. It has proved a popular move as Chinese have come to realise the pitfalls of these man-made one-week holidays and the advantage of having more choice about when to take leave. In terms of culture and custom, the Lunar New Year holiday week remains an exception. But it is doubtful the founding of modern China warrants more than the day of celebration that marks national, independence or foundation days elsewhere.
Ironically, since the golden weeks were introduced to stimulate the economy, there are economic arguments against them. The closure of finance markets and the shutting of commerce and industry puts China out of synch with the rest of the world. And man-made holidays discourage enterprises from implementing mutually agreed annual leave arrangements that strike a balance between employee welfare and business efficiency.
The authorities need to inject more flexibility into China's work-leave balance to keep up with the times.