Public holiday arrangements may seem the last thing the ruling Chinese Communist Party needs to worry about. Not true.
An ongoing nationwide views-gathering exercise launched by a CPC national committee on statutory public holidays has sparked a heated debate. Views were divided on current arrangements, particularly in the case of the extended “golden week” holidays.
Surveys conducted by online websites showed one thing in common, however. Most people are not happy with the present arrangement. As of Sunday, a poll conducted by Phoenix TV’s website found 63.4 percent of the respondents were not satisfied with it, while surveys run by two other websites showed similar findings: Sohu, 75.8 percent, and Sina, 82 percent.
Under the arrangement decreed by the State Council in 2007, there are a total of 11 statutory holidays each year. These include three designated for Spring Festival and another three for National Day. But following the government’s decision to tie three-day breaks with the weekends, the holiday calendar is now marked by two “golden week” seven-day breaks, namely National Day and Spring Festival, and five three-day breaks, including Mid-Autumn Festival and Dragon Boat Festival.
However well-intentioned it sounds, the tinkering of public holidays by state fiat has increasingly become a source of controversy. This year’s National Day was marred by chaos in some popular tourist attractions. In Sichuan, armed police were mobilized to maintain order in the scenic national park Jiuzaigou when sightseers stranded in the area clashed with park staff.
An economist, Wang Dingding, wrote on his blog on Oct. 6 the week-long National Day break has caused economic losses totaling 200 billion yuan (US$32.64 billion). According to his estimates, there are a total of 10 working days lost as a result of the two annual week-long holiday breaks. He attributed the additional two days of loss to low work efficiency and the need for the holiday-goers to reset their frame of mind back to work mode. Wang has proposed a further cut in the three-day break and a more flexible holiday arrangement.
A tourism academic at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Liu Simin, disagreed. In a report carried by a state-owned news agency, Liu said holidays were vital in shifting the country’s economic model from investment and exports to domestic consumption. A financial commentator said one “golden week” holiday contributes as much as 10 percent to the country’s total tourism revenue each year.
Liu said the merits of long holidays could not be measured in terms of economic benefits alone. There’s the benefit to one’s health that holidays bring, for example, as the long break provides the worker’s body time to rest and relax.
The debate is likely to be inconclusive. This is not so much because the central government lacks the will and a sense of urgency to bring some sense to the holiday arrangements. At the heart of the debate lies the strategic need to boost consumption for economic restructuring and, more importantly, to ease government control over issues such as holiday arrangements and give more freedom to the people and the market.
Is the Communist Party ready to do that?
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