Spring Festival: The Workers

Chinese New Year: Why its so important?

“Chinese New Year” (better known as “Spring Festival” in China) is the most important festival in China. It’s bigger than Christmas or Ramadan, by a lot. As the lunar calendar determines the exact date, the holiday varies each year but typically falls sometime in January and February. Chinese New Year is important to Chinese people as this is when gifts and Red Envelopes are exchanged. People spend time with their families, friend and have some rest.

Blue-collar workers are often excited for the new year, as often this is the only time when they get to see their families since most factories in China are located on the coast while most workers come from inner regions. Therefore, the holiday holds emotional stock. Suppliers and importers plan around it to ensure the holiday does not impact inventory, quality and costs.

Appreciating the scale of the event is difficult without some numbers: approximately 3.62 billion trips were made during the 40-day period surrounding the Spring Festival in 2014 making this the largest human migration in the world. The official holiday is 1 week, but however that number is irrelevant. Typically, most service oriented companies close for 2 weeks. Factories are more difficult to judge since the office staff (i.e. management, admin, sales) is off for 2 weeks.

The Factory Workers

HOWEVER, without labor, production stops. Factory floor workers often head off two weeks before the Chinese New Year but can leave up to four weeks in advance as train tickets are difficult to get during this time. Their return is normally connected to the “Lantern Festival” which is about fifteen days after the Chinese New Year.

Laborers have vacation for at least  four weeks in most cases. This is the only time of the year for their families, so they stay as long as they can. Chinese factory laborers normally work through other holidays in order to build up this extra time. Another factor affecting the holiday is the distance from the worker’s job to hometown. Local residents (běndì rén) may leave later, while outsiders (wàidì rén) would try and get on an earlier train.

During the 1 month long holiday, the workers typically spend their bonuses buying gifts for friends and family and eating dinner. Coupled with the fact that they are re-energized, the workers look for factories that have orders piled up so they can once work extra hours.

A heavy workload at the start of the New Year makes the worker believe that the factory is good and will have work throughout, giving them extra hours. If orders aren’t piled up, workers are quick to leave. Most workers do not care about work-life balance: Their goal is to maximize earnings.

About the author

David writes about economic activity throughout Southeast Asia and specializes on international trade relating to China. In addition, he holds a Masters Degree in Economics from Peking University.
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