By Mike Bastin.

So, it is now Qingming Festival time, Monday 2nd – Wednesday 4th to be precise, in China or Tomb Sweeping Festival as it is known in English. The Chinese name, Qingming, means that this is a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and tend to the graves of departed ones. Of course this is by no means the only festival in China with the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival (September/October time), Zhongqiu Jie in Chinese, the Spring Festival (January/February time), Chun Jie in Chinese and the National Day (October 1st) celebrations chief among such a plethora of festivities.

All of these festivals not only carry a deep cultural meaning, they also provide the hard-working Chinese workforce with much-needed paid holiday time. Or do they ????

It was as long ago as 1995 that China’s Central Government enacted legislation which (supposedly) paved the way for paid holiday across China. The reality, rather unsurprisingly, does not match the rhetoric.

National festivals in China continue to receive increasingly worldwide publicity but far less publicized is the fact that for the vast majority of Chinese employees, and foreign employees working in China, extra days at weekends have to be worked in order to make up for any weekday holidays. Let’s take this year’s Qingming Festival as a very typical example. Most employees in China can enjoy paid holiday on Monday 2nd April and enjoy two further days holiday on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th April.BUT they are also obliged to work on both days of the preceding weekend. In fact, the government transfers the preceding weekend to the following Tuesday and Wednesday in order to present what appear like a three-day holiday during the working week.

This employment practice of extra or over time immediately before national holidays, which in Chinese is referred to as “Jia(1) Ban(1)”, takes place around every national “holiday” in China. Sadly, from years of experience I can say that jia(1) ban(1) is also a common feature of working life in China throughout the year.

Imagine a UK employee having to do a full day’s work on the Sunday before a Bank Holiday Monday?

So, where is enforcement of earlier legislation? No where. And, more importantly, why does this most outdated practice continue in the modern day and what impact doe it have on Chinese industry?

Amongst many reasons, it is probably the fact that Trade Unions and trade unionism do not really exist as they do outside China, for example in many European countries and the US Trade Unions in China are simply another “arm” of government and technically it remains illegal in China for employees to go on strike. As a result, no collective pressure from the Chinese workforce can be applied to Chinese management.

As for the impact on the labour force in China, it is high time that, right across Chinese industry, employees are treated as human beings rather than robots. Human beings work best and certainly most innovatively when they enjoy regular, paid holiday. Paid holiday should be seen as the investment, rather than a cost, that it is. Far from leading to a decline in productivity, Chinese employers will actually find that frequent paid holidays will result in an increasingly motivated, loyal and productive workforce. Research studies consistently reveal a causal relationship between employee satisfaction and company competitiveness and innovation, and that a key source of such satisfaction at work is the expectation and experience of quality family time during paid holidays.

So, we await the first Chinese company to ban this iniquitous over-time practice, take the lead, and begin to invest in what will always be a company’s most valuable asset: employees. Less is more.

Mike Bastin is PhD student at School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. Thanks for the blog. It is interesting that you make an attempt to champion the cause of the Chinese working class in this article Mike. Casting taboos aside, by participating in a sort of self-inflicted “race-to-the-top” I’d suggest, and not be alone in doing so, that China has created of its own people the ultimate slave-race for its elite and for the developed world, one that is taught to be happy and content with improvements whilst still living in poverty and working for the dreams of others without scruples. From a purely amoral (or immoral) economic perspective, elites and nouveaux riches in China and foreign entrepreneurs engaging with China have no cause to make changes to the 21st century slavery we can take advantage of in China. Thankfully, we have sustainable entrepreneurs setting up businesses whereby ethics in economics takes precedence, but then if these entrepreneurs are interested themselves in surviving rather than thriving in terms of their economic self-interest, what hope do they have of making serious changes at a wider level? Somehow, and with some sighing, I don’t think China is “ready” to “catch on” to the suggestion at the end of your article, logical though it may be. I think part of the issue is pride in the work (slave) ethic and another a failure to understand how the human use of human beings in China lacks the ethical, moral and legal framework we outside of China might understand or accept (or not as the case may be, but nevertheless must adhere to). China is trapped in having created a slave culture for its own elites and for the West from within. If it starts taking steps to improve the culture of its slaves beyond the meagre improvements they have been taught to be contented with, China will lose its “competitiveness” and other “slave nations” will be sought out to replace it.

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