Liuzhou Laowai

Random thoughts on life in Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

“It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around”


"It must be a holiday, there's nobody around," sings Dylan in "Highlands". He clearly wasn't thinking about China. Here, holidays mean everyone is around. The whole place is chaos. It is best to hide away at home.

But it looks like we are having a reshuffle of official holidays.

For the last 9 years we have been confused every time there was a holiday. China allowed for 10 statutory holidays per year. These were 1 day for the New Year (Jan 1st), and 3 for each of the following – Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), International Labour Day (May 1st) and China’s National Day (October 1st).

The problem arose in 1999, when it was the 50th anniversary of Mao’s declaration of the Republic – China’s 50th National Day. It was decided to extend the holiday into a full week. However, this was impossible under the existing legislation. Instead of re-legislating they decided to cheat.

October 1st was a Friday, so we would have that off. Then Saturday and Sunday would be rest days as normal. Monday and Tuesday would be the 2nd and 3rd days of our entitlement to three. We would then take Wednesday and Thursday off, too, but make up for them by working the following weekend, pretending that Saturday was Wednesday and Sunday was Thursday. So, we managed to fool ourselves that we had had a full week’s holiday when, in fact, we still had only three days. Clear? Thought not?

Anyway, the locals did what they do best. They went shopping resulting in a huge boost to the economy. This prompted them to do the same at each of the three – 3 day holidays from then on. Three times a year we would tax our brains trying to work out what day of the week it was (notionally or in reality).
These holidays became known as Golden Weeks.

However, in recent times, there has been somewhat of a backlash. Naked greed, overcrowding of trains and tourist destinations as well as actual damage to historical sites due to the sheer volume of visitors has led to something of a rethink.

So, it has been announced that the May 1st golden week will be axed and the holiday reduced from three days to one day. Spring Festival will be restricted to the three days. National Day will continue to be a Golden Week, but the only one.

To make up for the loss of two days in May, they are making three popular traditional festival dates into public holidays. These are:

Qing Ming

Qingming (literally, 'clear and bright') is your chance to go out and polish up your ancestors. China has a long tradition of ancestor worship and, so, prayers and offerings (food and special paper money to be sure that Gramps isn't short of the price of a bowl of noodles in heaven) are made to the dead at this time, along with some housekeeping of grave sites.
It is interesting that the government are making this holiday official as they officially regard such nonsense as ridiculous superstition, although they did mummify Mao and still display his moth-eaten remains in the wonderfully kitsch Maosoleum in that large square in Beijing, where he lies while the worshippers file solemnly past.

Now that burial is all but illegal in China (Deng Xiao Ping was cremated), one wonders how long this festival can last. Not much point having a tomb sweeping festival when there are no tombs. Not to worry, they have hundreds of replacement traditions up their sleeves. 

Duan Wu

The Dragon Boat Festival is held on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar to commemorate the ill-documented story of some poet chap who either committed suicide by jumping out of his boat in the middle of a lake or who just fell in when he was drunk – as you do. (Which lake is under dispute – every village claims it to be their local pond!) Whichever, the boat races held every year are said to symbolise the rush to save him and the little parcels of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves are supposed to represent the efforts made by locals to prevent the poet's body from being eaten by fish. Apparently, they threw these parcels into the lake to feed the fish and divert them from a bit of human flesh. Frankly, having tried the things, I’d rather throw them away and eat dead poets. 

Zhong Qiu

Mid-autumn Festival is pretty much self explanatory. It is analogous to the Harvest Festival celebrated in the west. Held on the 15th day of the 8th month by the Chinese calendar, the festival consists of stuffing your face, dropping off a few offerings to the ancestors then looking at the full moon. For weeks before the shops will have been full of mooncakes – ridiculously heavy cakes containing an odd mixture of sweet and savoury.

This is another money spending festival. Boxes of mooncakes are piled up high in the supermarkets and in high class hotels, selling at ridiculous prices. These can go up to as much as $40,000 (that’s US dollars) and come with attached gifts such as cameras, watches etc. I’ve even heard of one case where the mooncake box contained a coupon exchangeable for a car.

Well, after that you’d need a holiday.

The above arrangements have not yet been officialy sanctioned, but all newspapers are reporting them so it seems likely they will happen. Send me a postcard.

. This entry was posted on Saturday, November 10th, 2007 at 1:19 pm and is filed under Chinese Holidays. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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