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China's System of Extended Holidays Debated

A practice that has pleased millions of Chinese but perplexed others since 1999 - when three national holidays were each extended to last a week - came under scrutiny yesterday.

Some lawmakers attending the Fifth Session of the Ninth National People's Congress called for the holidays to be made shorter because they cannot tolerate the side effects that come with the long break.

Others argued people should continue to enjoy longer holidays and improve their leisure time.

May Day (May 1), which used to be just a single day off, and the two-day National Day (October 1) holiday were each stretched to three days to equal that of the Spring Festival three years ago.

Each holiday has since been expanded to seven days off work through the addition of the two nearest weekends.

Government officials dubbed the lumped holidays "golden weeks," because eight such vacations combined since 1999 have contributed at least 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) to the tourism industry alone, indicated the latest statistics from the National Holidays Travel Co-ordination Office in Beijing.

But Qin Chijiang, an NPC deputy, thought differently. "We can never ignore the side effects coming along with this compulsory, unified arrangement of taking days off."

Qin's motion to the NPC is to abolish the current week-long holidays plan and allow people to choose to rest at their convenience.

Based on what he claimed were 18-month studies of the official arrangement and talks with the masses, Qin maintained that the manipulation of people's holidays has in fact caused "trouble and inconvenience."

The concentrated holidays have put the country's traffic order "somewhat in disarray," Qin alleged. The railways, road and civil aviation departments have to react to the travel peaks by reserving more transport vehicles for passengers, and cut those for cargoes, he said.

The holiday travel spree has caused a flurry of people to flood popular travel routes and sites, invariably overcrowding these destinations, Qin said.

Some people have now even decided to give up going out during those holidays, he said.

The National Holiday Travel Co-ordinating Office also logged mounting complaints about the tourism service, with many moaning about the difficulty of booking air and railway tickets, said an official at the office, who identified himself only as Liu.

The seeming prosperity in tourism during the holiday booms has led to some travel agencies and sites to blindly augment infrastructure facilities.

"But the irony is, after the three long holidays, parks and sites of interests are usually poorly attended," Qin said.

"The Spring Festival should be reinstated to a three-day holiday, as it is the most important festival," Qin said.

"No holidays should be artificially extended by moving the weekends, and people should be allowed to deposit their holidays, so that they can 'cash in' when they want."

Li Shutian, another legislator, disagreed with Qin.

He claimed Chinese travelers have become more rational and the travel service continues to improve so most of the trouble and inconvenience listed by Qin could be resolved.

"Compared with the phenomenal economic benefits brought by the holiday arrangement, the trouble it causes is just peripheral," he said.

He charged that the three seven-day holidays should be enlarged to nine days each, so that people could travel farther and rest better.

"During the May Day holidays last year, more than 73.76 million people traveled, but 67.8 percent of them just took short- distance treks. For a person in northern China to travel to the south by train, he or she will have to spend at least four days on the way, and will thus have little time for sightseeing."

( China Daily March 13, 2002)

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