Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day - here and in China

Here in the U.S., May 1st, May Day, is pretty much like any other 1st day of a month; but in China, where I spent six months two years ago in Beijing as a Fulbright Scholar, May Day is one of the big holidays of the year. In celebration of May Day, or International Labor Day, all Chinese workers get the day - and week - off. (Here's a picture from Tiananmen Square on May Day 2005.)

As such, it is one of three official "vacation weeks" - the others being Spring Festival, celebrating Chinese New Year, falling usually in February or late January; and the October holiday celebrating the revolution and creation of the People's Republic in October 1949.

Imagine an entire nation of over 1 billion people on vacation simultaneously - many trying to travel here and there - and you get an idea of the massive logistical challenges of these weeks.

The common, mandated vacation weeks are an example of the official conformity that has existed in China at least since 1949 (another is that all of China - 3000 miles east to west - is on the same (Beijing) time, instead of different time zones) but, the times they are a-changing, as they say.

China is communist in name, but its leaders have demonstrated they're perfectly willing to adopt aspects of capitalism if it helps them maintain their grip on power - and so they have. I expect we'll see this 3-week common vacation practice fall by the wayside as well in the coming years.