24 March 2019
Holidays offer no relaxation for many harried Chinese parents. Photo: Bloomberg
Holidays offer no relaxation for many harried Chinese parents. Photo: Bloomberg

Why holidays mean more work for Chinese parents

May Day, or Labor Day, is an occasion to celebrate the working classes and their struggle for rights and benefits. With about 80 countries and regions around the world marking the day — May 1 — as a public holiday, it provides a time for the working population to relax.

My wife and I also had the chance to get a break from the usual busy work week. Even nicer, our employers granted an extra day for us as compensation for overtime work before. That meant we could enjoy a four-day May Day holiday.

But, as things turned out, we found ourselves even busier during those four days.

It was all because of our 3-year-old son.

As a typical working couple, our little one is taken care of mostly by his grandparents. My wife and I seldom have the time to be with him.

As compensation for our absence, we decided to take him to places he had wanted to go to. Here was the itinerary:
Day 1: Beijing Zoo and Beijing Aquarium
Day 2: A rural homestay program at a village in Beijing’s Yanqing County
Day 3: A tour to the bazaar of the village and mountains nearby
Day 4: Kid farming program in Beijing’s Mengtougou district.

These trips gave a lot of fun and joy to my son, but exhausted all the energy and strength from my wife and me.

At Beijing Zoo, I had to hold my child on my shoulders most of the day. This helped him get a better view of animals and birds. More important, it protected him from being getting hurt amid the huge crowds of parents and children. There were so many people in the zoo that some visitors said jokingly that “99.9 percent of the living things in the zoo are humans.”

Our trip to rural Beijing the next day gave us a chance to be far from the madding crowd. Tranquility and closeness to nature were indeed a pleasure. But the journey that took us to the village was so painful. Cars packed with parents and children caused congestion on the expressway to the northern suburbs. I had to choose winding mountain roads. It took me four hours, double than usual, to get to the destination. The traffic condition was no better on our way back to downtown Beijing the next day.

On Day 4, a working day, traffic on roads to the Mengtougou farm was smooth. But to be frank, my wife and I were like batteries going dead. Babysitting proved to be tough, especially as we planned so many programs. In the past days, my wife and I slept a maximum of six hours a day, even fewer than a usual working day.

We were not alone. Our experience in the zoo and the terrible traffic let us know that a good many fathers and mothers endured the same. The May Day holiday effectively became a workday.

So, the question arises: why do parents like us have to “work” during the holiday?

There are at least three reasons. First, the annual leave system is not practiced well. Most of the Chinese parents only have public holidays to spend with their children. Second, social welfare network is not sound enough to afford one of the parents to stay at home for a few years to take care of their young children. Third, the employment culture does not have the tradition to lean toward young parents.

There are a few countries where young parents can easily have a lot of time to spend with their children by either enjoying long leaves or temporarily not working. These countries have one or several of the following advantages.

First, they are rich countries with high income for residents.

Second, resources per capita are high. Usually, they boast rich oil, land and agricultural resources but the population is small.

Third, their industries top the global value chain, which means their people can make easy money with their competitiveness in areas such as technology, branding, design and innovation. Last, their social welfare networks are sound and employers are tolerant toward young parents.

China seems to have none of these. So, more likely than not, parents like me and my wife will have to continue “working hard” during all public holidays.

Zhang Xinmo, a commentator based in Beijing, has been a journalist for more than 10 years in China and Hong Kong. He writes mostly on China’s economic issues.

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The writer is an economic commentator. He writes mostly on business issues in Greater China.

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