CHINA BRIEFING
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Mass vacations are no holiday

Having Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day fall so close together points out flaws in mainland's top-down system of deciding days off

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 4:43am

Here is the question: if your government decreed that, starting from September 16, you will work for three days then have a three-day holiday; go back to work for six days, then take a day off; work two more days followed by a seven-day holiday; then work for another five days before taking yet another day off, what would you say? Probably that your government is bonkers.

Well, this is precisely the holiday arrangement that the central government has planned for mainlanders during the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day holidays this year.

It is high time that the government stopped meddling in people's lives, no matter how good its intentions.

China has come a long way since the old days when the government was a cradle-to-grave manager, controlling almost every aspect of people's lives - in some cases even choosing their spouses.

But old habits die hard as government officials appear unwilling to let go of any opportunity to micromanage the masses, citing their lofty intentions.

The chaotic holiday schedules for the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day holidays are the latest example.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated in Hong Kong, the mainland and elsewhere in Asia, falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, during a full moon. It is a public holiday on the mainland while Hongkongers are given the following day off instead.

As this year's festival fell on Thursday, the government decided to put together a small holiday break of three days by asking people to take Friday off and work on Sunday.

Okay, that's not unreasonable. But, with this year's Mid-Autumn Festival so close to National Day on October 1, that's a recipe for chaos.

In 1999, the government added a day to make it a three-day National Day public holiday as part of efforts to encourage more consumer spending following the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Later, the government decided to stretch the holiday to a whole week by asking people to work the preceding or following weekends to recoup the working days lost in between.

Hence, the term "holiday economy" was coined to describe the phenomenon of tens of millions of mainlanders hitting the road, at the same time, for sightseeing or shopping.

In the first few years, it greatly boosted consumer spending, raising hundreds of billions of yuan over the week.

But soon the downside started to show. The mainland's public transport - let alone the hospitality industry including hotels and national parks - simply could not cope with such mass movements of people over so short a period of time.

These chaotic holiday arrangements not only create confusion but unduly disrupt how mainlanders work and rest.

Moreover, mainland investors and businessmen incur losses or miss opportunities to make money because the mainland's financial markets are closed while overseas counterparts remain open in this era of rapid currency fluctuations and stock movements.

For instance, mainland stock markets had been shut since Thursday when the US Federal Reserve surprised the world by choosing not to cut back on its asset-buying programme, sending world shares and currencies higher. But mainland investors will have to wait until today to react to the important news.

With the mainland economy now second in size only to the US, its artificial holidays signal a serious disconnect with the international community.

xiangwei.wang@scmp.com