Citizens view lanterns ahead of the Spring Festival at Nanfeng Square in Yuncheng city, North China’s Shanxi Province, Feb. 7, 2021. Photo:Xinhua

A number of recommendations on public holidays proposed during the two sessions have been recently trending across China’s social media. The discussion once again hits a sensitive point for most Chinese, with many debating if there are enough holidays.

“Extending public holidays like the Spring Festival, the most important, to boost consumption and promote family reunions” was one of the most highly rated proposals. Many call it a right time for extending holidays to rejuvenate the economy and stimulate consumption as Chinese society turns back to normal with the COVID-19 pandemic getting well under control. 

The popular proposals also reflect a deep desire for leisure time among Chinese workers who have long been suffered from the widespread culture of overtime work.

Experts say the growing discussion over longer holidays reflects an increasing emphasis on the basic interests of workers’ rights in Chinese society. They say longer vacations are also a trend as China’s labor force becomes more efficient and the economy becomes more reliant on domestic demand.

China’s labor efficiency has been greatly improved since the reform and opening-up in 1978, and it has moved beyond the stage of capital accumulation to an economic structure driven by domestic demand. Considering that China’s current internal consumption potential is huge, a revitalization of service industries like personal care, sports and physical recreation, hospitality and entertainment requires longer public holidays to achieve its goal, Cong Yi,  a professor at the Tianjin University of Finance and Economics, told the Global Times.

China has basically completed its industrialization and reached an upper middle income level. The public need has been significantly upgraded to emphasize life-work balance, Cong noted.

Popular proposals, such as providing paid parental leave for both spouses, offering men no less than 20 days of paternity leave and increasing paid leave for those who are the only child to care for elderly parents, have all emphasized the protection of family and childcare rights, observers suggested.

These proposals can indirectly boost fertility and promote gender equality, Zhang Lining, a researcher from the Center for International Economic Research at Tsinghua University said.

Are there too few holidays in China?

There are a total of 11 statutory public holidays each year in China. “Statistics showed that the number of statutory holidays in China is actually similar to that in many foreign countries,” said Li Chang’an, a professor at School of Public Administration under University of International Business and Economics.

The official annual fixed rest and vacation time for Chinese is 120 to 130 days, accounting for about one third of the whole year.

In general, many economists agreed the trend of China’s holiday system is in line with China’s macroeconomic restructuring and the overall international trend.

However, it seems to be a growing consensus among Chinese social media users that the holiday experience is less enjoyable when, for example, traveling during the golden week of the National Day’s holidays with heavy traffic and visitors packing tourist attractions. Most families see this holiday as a precious opportunity to spend time together.

A call for staggered holidays or longer weekend breaks has become dominant nowadays.

In fact, various efforts for longer holidays or weekend breaks have never stopped over the years.

In February, a deputy to the National People’s Congress proposed a four-and-a-half-day work week, after some places have already tried such a policy.

But the proposal was refuted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security which suggested that it was not realistic to further reduce the weekly working hours standard and that it should not be widely adopted in enterprises.

In the current economic situation, cutting working hours will increase the pressure on enterprises to produce and operate, bring higher labor costs and burdens, and affect economic development, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said in a response.

More holidays as production patterns change?

In 1995, Chinese people finally started to enjoy two days off during the weekends after having only one day a week to rest.

In 2008, China eventually extended the Spring Festival vacation from three to seven days.

“The increase of the holidays lies in the development of both the technology and labor productivity,” said Wang Qiyan, director of the Leisure Economy Research Center at the Renmin University of China. “For example, the invention of the production line has liberated the workers from a long work shifts, which allows people to enjoy their free time, and this is the premise for a vacation.”

Wu Bihu, travel and planning expert at Peking University, believes that longer holidays could stimulate the economy and society.

Cong agreed with Wu that the extension of holidays in China is an inevitable future trend, along with social and economic progress, and optimized production patterns.

In contrast, some scholars believe it is not necessary to increase the number of statutory holidays.

Instead of increasing the number of holidays, authorities should emphasize more on changing the culture of working long hours among Chinese employees, especially the unpaid overtime, Li noted.

The average work time for enterprise employees in China was close to 47 hours in November 2020, official data showed. That means that employees worked more than 9 hours per day.

“The working hours of Chinese workers are among the longest in the world,” Li told the Global Times.

The city of Shenzhen, in South China’s Guangdong Province, approved in November last year a compulsory paid leave in a bid to ensure the wellbeing of the local labor force in the Chinese tech hub.

But its implementation might not be ideal. Experts have criticized the lack of clear standards for the content and enforcement of the provisions.