When are the Chinese public holidays and how do they work?

Photo by jill111

If you’re working in China, you should familiarize yourself with the public holiday system, because there are plenty of them and the bigger ones throw the entire country into disarray as about a billion people all try to fly, train or drive their way across the country simultaneously (for more information on Chinese festivals, see this article). As an expat worker, you may not have to take the same holidays as Chinese citizens, but they will impact your life in some way, even if it’s just that plane fares shoot up and major cities suddenly empty of people.

And if you are supposed to take Chinese holidays, be prepared for two things: 1, confusion and 2, working on weekends to “earn” your holidays.


How the Chinese holiday system works

  1. China has two “long” holidays each year, and five “short” holidays.
  2. To make the holidays worthwhile and to allow people to travel, they are arranged so that the long holidays are seven days straight, and the short holidays are three days straight.
  3. Here’s where things get complex. Of a long holiday’s seven days, only three are actual holidays. Two are weekend days, and the other two have to be made up or “earned” by working on a weekend before or after the holiday (your company will tell you how this will be arranged). 
  4. Similarly, of a short holiday’s three days, only one day is an actual holiday. If the holiday falls over a weekend, the Friday or Monday will be your holiday, and you won’t have any days to make up, as the other two will be the natural Saturday/Sunday weekend days. However, if the holiday does not fall smoothly over a weekend, you’ll have to work two extra days to make up for two of your three holiday days. 
  5. Holidays are planned so that one of the days off is the exact date that the traditional holiday falls. This is how you end up with a short holiday running Tuesday through Thursday, or Monday through Wednesday, and why you have to work on a weekend to make up for those “extra” weekday holidays. 

Yes, it would be simpler (and arguably more sensible) to tack an extra day on to a weekend and have Friday-to-Sunday or Saturday-to-Monday holidays. But that’s not the way it works, and no amount of complaining is going to change it.


The Chinese holiday dates

Some of these holidays are based on the lunar calendar, and so do not have a fixed day in the Western calendar – hence the vagueness.

  • New Year’s Day (Jan 1)                                          3 days off 
  • Spring Festival (Jan/Feb; Feb 18 in 2015)                7 days off
  • Tomb-Sweeping Day (Apr; Apr 3 in 2015)               3 days off
  • International Workers’ Day (May 1)                       3 days off
  • Dragon Boat Festival (May/Jun; Jun 20 in 2015)      3 days off
  • Mid-Autumn Festival (Sep/Oct; Sept 27 in 2015)     3 days off
  • National Day (Oct 1)                                              7 days off 


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