A new report from the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party points out that China’s vacation and rest day system still needs further reform following a sharp increase in the volume of leisure time enjoyed by citizens.
According to the report from the People’s Daily the number of statuary holidays and weekend rest days in China has risen from around 60 days at the start of the reform and opening period to 115 at present, accounting for nearly one third of days in the year.
At the outset of the reform and opening period China implemented a system of just one rest day per week, before shifting to a system of “small and large weekends” in 1994, with large weekends providing two days of a rest as compared to just one for small weekends.
A full two-day weekend system was officially launched in 1995, providing Chinese citizens with an additional 52 rest days per year.
In 1999 the “Golden Week” vacation system was launched with the release of the “National New Year and Commemoration Day Vacation Measures” (全国年节及纪念日放假办法) by the State Council.
Under the golden week system Chinese citizens would enjoy three seven-day vacations each year, for the Chinese New Year, the May 1st Holiday and China’s National Day in October.
In 2008 China cancelled one of the “golden weeks” by reducing the number of statutory vacation days for the May 1st holiday from 3 to just 1.
It also added official vacations for traditional Chinese festivals including the Qing Ming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
2013 saw the release of the “National Citizens Tourism and Leisure Framework” (国民旅游休闲纲要), which proposed the “comprehensive implementation of a paid vacation system by 2020,” while 2015 saw the introduction of more flexible leisure time arrangements with the “2.5 Rest Day Model.”
The State Council has also recently ruled that starting from 2018 that there will be a three day vacation for the Qingming, Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn Festivals.
“The fundamental reason for the evolution of the vacation and rest day system has been increases to labour efficiency,” said Wang Qiyan (王琪延), a researcher from Renmin University in Beijing.
“Labour efficiency is in turn determined by advances in science and technology…for example following the shift from a manual workshop to a production line, people can have more leisure time.”
“Adjustments to China’s vacation and rest day system match adjustments to China’s macro-economic structure, and are in consonance with international trends,” said Wei Xiang (魏翔), an academic from the Financial and Economic Strategy Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
According to Wei when the “golden week” system was first launched China’s economy was seeing sustained improvements, while current upgrades to the economic structure will necessitate further adjustments to the vacation system.
Wang Qiyan believes that adjustments to the scheduling and structure of vacation period in China will be the key focus in future, given the problems created by the concurrent travel of so many people in a country of China’s immense population size.
“People vacation in the same locations at the same time – this ‘time sharing’ is one of the chief features of China’s vacation system,” said Wang, pointing to the stress this places on tourism sites and public facilities.
Wei Xiang said that China’s vacation system needs to improve its “structural efficiency,” calling for the replacement of golden weeks with “distributed vacations,” alongside the implementation of a paid vacation system.
“Distributed vacations are an optimised vacation model, which can bring about greater labour productivity,” said Wei.
Wei Qiang said that the chief barrier to the implementation of paid vacations in China is that some labour-intensive enterprises feel that they “cannot afford holidays,” which means that regulators will need to oversee the implementation of such a system.
Wang Qiyan is optimistic that China will be able to implement a paid vacation system prior to 2020, given that per capita GDP is on track to breach USD$10,000 by the end of the decade.
According to Wang China will need to change its way of thinking on the matter as soon as possible, and realise that improving quality of life means implementing a rational number of vacation and rest periods.
Wang also points to the need for improvements to regulations governing paid vacations, to ensure that they have a legal basis and are strictly enforced.
Once a paid vacation system is in place, Wang says China can gradually bring an end to its “golden week” system, as well as stabilise vacation times via statutory means so that they are better distributed.