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China Experiments with New Time Schedule for Work
It is the wont of the Chinese people to take a nap after lunch; however, this practice is quietly changing as some cities experiment with a new time schedule for work -- starting 9am and finishing at 5pm, to facilitate international communication.

The Chengdu High-tech Industry Development Zone in Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province has been the first region in western China to adopt the universal time schedule for work. After extensive surveys and thorough study, its administrative committee ordered the implementation of the new time schedule in government departments, townships and streets within the Zone from December 1, 1999. According to the order, the old work schedule, starting at 8am and finishing at 6pm, with a two-and-a-half hour lunch time rest, was abandoned.

“Before we adopted the new time schedule, some 300 foreign enterprises in the Zone had been using it, but often complained that differences in working hours hindered good communications,” said Hou Zhilong, vice director of the general office of the administrative committee.

“To build an international environment for the foreign enterprises, the administrative committee adopted the suggestions of those foreign enterprises to emulate the universal practice of 9-to-5. It has proved effective, economical and has been well received,” said Hou.

“As we have many foreign enterprises in the Zone, the staff of our committee no doubt need to have knowledge of international laws and skills in foreign languages and computer operations. After we implemented the new schedule, some 90 percent of the staff members are receiving training in evening schools as they have more time of their own after they clock off,” Hou added.

Drawing on the experience of the Chengdu High-tech Industry Development Zone, Mianyang City in northwestern Sichuan Province implemented the same schedule starting from January 1, 2002 within its administrative organs. A survey among residents in the City shows that most people -- over 80 percent -- hailed the new schedule; and 40 percent of the interviewees said it should have been implemented even earlier.

But in another city in western China -- Lanzhou in Gansu Province -- Hong Kong businesswoman Xu Yunjuan has to face the time discrepancy brought about by the time schedule for work of her Lanzhou Sea Eagle Medical Equipments Co., Ltd, which is different from the local one. The company uses a 9-to-5 schedule to facilitate contact with its head office in Hong Kong, while Lanzhou City hasn’t yet switched to the system. The Company has no choice but to assign employees to answer telephone calls from 8am to 9am and from 5pm to 6pm -- two periods which are not within their normal office hours but fall into the local one.

Recently, Zhou Yingping, a member of the Lanzhou Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the secretary-general of Lanzhou Overseas Chinese Association, proposed a reform of the time schedule for work within Lanzhou’s municipal departments and public institutions to follow the international trend and speed up Lanzhou residents’ tempo of work and living, so as to improve its investment environment.

Gao Xincai, a professor with the Business Management School of Lanzhou University, strongly backs Zhou.

“The concentration of office time and leisure is well fitted for scale economy. What’s more, it’s urgent to align ourselves with the international community in the scheduling of office hours,” said Gao.

But some other people object to the new time schedule. They said many people have formed the habit of taking a siesta over the years and not having it could have a bad effect on their work rate in the afternoon. Besides, some of them hold that to eat out during a compressed lunchtime would aggravate the economic burden of families on low incomes.

(china.org.cn by Chen Chao, June 26, 2002)

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