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New holiday system set for first test
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The country's new holiday scheme will be put to the test next Friday, with the arrival of the Qingming Festival.

The celebration, also known as the Tomb Sweeping Festival, joins the Dragon-Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival as the new holidays on this year's calendar, while the once-weeklong May Day holiday is shortened.

Part of the aim of the new plan is to increase public observance of traditional culture, as many fear traditional festivals are fading from public consciousness as China embraces more Western holidays, such as Valentine's Day. But whether this change in consciousness will actually come about remains to be seen.

A recent survey by online travel service Ctrip.com showed more than a quarter of the 3,000 respondents planned to sweep ancestors' tombs next weekend. Many more performed the traditional duty last weekend or plan to do it this weekend for fear of dealing with crowds on the designated day.

"The traffic will be especially bad, and the prices of sacrificial offerings, such as flowers and paper money, will soar next weekend," Cheng Li, from Jiangsu province, said.

She said she will visit her father's tomb this weekend.

Many people who work away from their hometowns may not be able to go home to pay their respects.

"Three days are not enough for me, because my family is in Guangxi, but I work in Shanghai," Wang Xuebing said.

"If I fly home, it will be very expensive."

But taking time off work to mark the Qingming Festival is important, because "it reminds me that we Chinese have such a tradition of paying respect to our ancestors for giving us life", Wang said.

Li Hanqiu, director of the Festival and Convention Committee under the China Society For the Study of Folk Literature and Art, agreed, saying the festival itself satisfies people's "spiritual needs".

"Even though some people can't travel back to their hometowns, they can still use the day for other things, such as setting up an online cemetery, which crosses the limitations of time and space. This makes the holiday worthwhile," he said.

The meaning of the Qingming Festival goes beyond sweeping ancestors' tombs, he said.

"Since ancient times, the festival has been a time for people to go for a walk in the country to embrace the spring after a long winter. It balances grief with a cherishment of life," he said.

Han Xiao, deputy director of the Hangzhou tourism management committee, said the new holiday system was a good thing.

"Adding three holidays will reduce the rush of tourists to scenic spots we see every May Day.

"This will help us improve the quality of the services we provide as well as reduce the number of complaints."

(China Daily March 26, 2008)

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