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China – Holidays and their impact on business

China has a rather unique system of public holidays. Some of the public holidays are traditional holidays, such as Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), Dragon Boat festival and Qing Ming, others are results of modern China’s socialist origins: Labour day and Working Women’s day. While there are 11 official days of public holiday, in practice it is more like 16 days. In order to give its citizens longer bunches of days off, rather than a series of individual days, the Chinese government has added days to the official formal public holiday days but requested that employees work on weekend days.

Working at weekends isn’t popular anywhere, so in practice, employees tend to come to work late/leave early or not come at all!

Two public holidays, the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and the National Day Holiday are particularly long. In 2020 the Spring Festival holiday officially starts on 24 January (Chinese New Year’s Eve) and runs to February 2 inclusive (the holiday week was originally from January 24 to January 30 but was extended to February 2 due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to slow the spread of epidemic).

Usually, factory workers and employees from other cities tend to stretch their holiday even longer and may be away for up to a month over the Spring Festival period. (Many factories actually close down for much of this period). Courier companies stop operations for up to two weeks, restaurants either close or operate on a skeleton staff and domestic staff are away for up to three or four weeks if their homes are in another province. However, this year the novel coronavirus outbreak delayed the return of most people to work and schools remain closed for a longer period after the Chinese New Year holiday. Most corporate clients are permitting their employees to work at home. Some are not working. Some factories have halted production. A number of corporate clients have instructed their employees and families to return to their home countries until the critical period of the virus passes.

The China National Day holiday this year runs from Thursday 1st October to Thursday 8th October – effectively a full week off.

Some Western companies will also close their operations for Christmas Day and Boxing Day – but not Chinese run or Joint venture companies.

While Chinese employees welcome these long holidays, the two longest (and week-long) holidays, make efficient operations rather difficult for companies, like ours, whose client base is primarily overseas

And as for thoughts of travel! In terms of domestic and international travel, these two weeks are virtually impossible for travel within China and difficult for international travel. Increasingly, the Chinese middle class is choosing these long holiday periods to travel internationally, making plane bookings not only difficult to make but expensive.

In-China travel during the Chinese New Year period is fraught. It is virtually impossible to buy train tickets (online bookings open several weeks before the holiday and are usually booked out within the hour) and in-China travel at this time is only enjoyable if you like crowds: in 2012 there were over 3 billion planned passenger trips inside China in the 40 days around and including the New Year period.

Last update: 26 February 2020