Labor Day in the People's Republic

Chinese Agricultural Workers

May 1 was chosen as International Workers’ Day (also known as May Day or Labor Day) by Communists and Socialists at the Second International to commemorate the start of a strike organized by labor unions on May 1, 1886.  In December 1949, the new Communist government established it as a national holiday in the People’s Republic of China.

In 2000, May Day was deemed one of three 7-day “Golden Week” holidays, which were designed to encourage domestic tourism and spending.   However, calls to eliminate these week-long holidays began in 2004 because of their questionable benefit to the economy and overall disruption.  In 2006, CCTV weighed in on the issue, and later that year it was proposed that the National Day and May Day Golden weeks be canceled and the holidays be reassigned to observances of traditional Chinese holidays like the Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Festival.  In 2007, the proposal was adopted, and beginning in 2008, the three traditional holidays were added as public holidays, and May Day was reduced to a one-day holiday. In a bit of calendrical trickery, May Day has the appearance of a three-day holiday.  Two of the off-days are made up on weekends.   If this makes your head spin, you’re not alone.  The Chinese are still confused and unhappy about how the government establishes holidays.

Keeping in mind its roots as day commemorating workers, The Wall Street Journal went out on the streets of Beijing to ask ten workers of various ages and occupations how they feel about Labor Day.  Though brief, the interviews feel very personal and reflect China’s social and economic changes and complexities and reveal generational and class divides.  

Image: NIH: U.S. National Library of Medicine