Did you know that China has seven national holidays? Also, that the unofficial holiday period can span several weeks either side of the official date? This article summarizes the seven Chinese national holidays, with advice for how your business should approach each one.
New Year’s Day:
In China, New Year’s Day is called yuán dàn and is different to Chinese New Year. Most businesses typically close from 31 December to 2 January. It is a good idea to send a greeting to your partner and clients, such as ‘新年快乐’ (xīn nián kuài lè, ‘Happy New Year’) or ‘元旦快乐’ (yuán dàn kuài lè, ‘Happy Yuan Dan’).
Chinese New Year:
Also called Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is the most important annual holiday with a 4,000 year history. Most Chinese citizens will try to return to their hometown (meaning the hometown of one’s grandfather, not necessarily the place one’s parents live) during this period. These family reunions place an incredible strain on public infrastructure. During the ‘chunyun’ travelling season lasting from January 16 to February 2 (40 days), there are typically 3.6 billion passenger movements, making it the largest human migration in the world. So while you may be anxious about the delivery of your products, spare a thought for your Chinese contacts enduring a trip home like this!
It is a good idea to send a hand-written card and gift to your Chinese contacts, timed to arrive at least 2 weeks before the official start of the holiday. This is because many senior members of a company may leave for vacation earlier. All gifts must be either red in color or wrapped in red. Ideal greetings include ‘过年好’ (guò nián hǎo, ‘Happy getting past the old year!’), ‘恭贺新春’ (gōng hè xīn chūn, ‘Sincere congratulations on the new spring’), or ‘新年快乐’ (xīn nián kuài lè, or, ‘Happy New Year’).
In 2017, Year of the Rooster will begin on January 28, with most businesses officially closed from 27 January – 2 February. Much like the ‘silly season’ in the US, do not expect to accomplish much business in the 2 weeks either side of this period. Check with your suppliers well in advance to see how you will be affected and plan accordingly.
Qingming is a traditional holiday meaning ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’. Although it may sound somber, it is a chance for Chinese to remember their ancestors. Many Chinese people will take this opportunity to visit the graves of relatives to clean away leaves and dirt, or to head to the countryside to begin ushering in the Spring. As this is a festival associated with death, there is no need to send greetings or gifts. In 2017, Quinming will be celebrated on April 4.
May Day or Láo Dòng Jié, also known as Labor Day or International Workers Day, is a modern holiday that was introduced by the post 1949 government of Chairman Mao. There is no need for special greetings or gifts. You may simply wish your contacts an enjoyable break. It is celebrated on 1 May, and in 2017 most businesses will close from 29 April – May 1.
Dragon Boat Festival:
Dragon Boat Festival was originally created to honor the ancient poet Qu Yuan. On this day, most Chinese people will eat 粽子 (zòng zi), a glutinous rice package wrapped in bamboo. It is a time to wish your associates in China happiness and prosperity for the remaining months of the year. It is celebrated on the 5th of the 5th lunar month. In 2017, this will be 30 May, with businesses closed from 27 – 30 May.
Mid-Autumn Day, or Zhōng Qiū, is celebrated on August 15th of the lunar calendar. It is the second-most important festival on the Chinese calendar and revolves around family. In less busy times, this festival was also an opportunity for families to gather together and eat moon-shaped cakes. Indeed, one of the most popular greetings is阖家团圆 (hé jiā tuán yuán, ‘whole family reunited, round and full’). However, now that so many Chinese work away from their hometowns, many will replace a trip home by simply eating mooncake. Therefore, you may find it easier to greet your contacts with中秋佳节快乐 (zhōng qiū jiā jié kuài lè, ‘Have a happy time during the pleasant Mid-Autumn Festival’).
You may find that, as with Chinese New Year, business slows down in the weeks leading up to and following this holiday. In 2017, Mid-Autumn Day will be on October 4, meaning it falls within the national holiday period.
Chinese National Day commemorates the foundation of the People's Republic of China by Chairman Mao Zedung in 1949. National Day falls on October 1, with an official 3-day closure from 1 – 3 October. In reality, most businesses close for at least 7 days, known as the ‘golden week’. While you may hear lots of fireworks in major Chinese cities, most Chinese do not celebrate National Day in any personal way. Therefore, there is no need to send greetings or gifts.
As this holiday is not connected to family, many Chinese use this long break as a chance for personal and recreational travel, especially for overseas trips. You may therefore expect your contacts higher up the chain to be unavailable for some time during October. In 2016, businesses will close from 1 - 8 October. In 2017, expect most businesses to be closed from 1 – 7 October.
One thing to note is that after an official holiday, many Chinese will be required to work through the weekend to catch up on missed work. Don't be surprised if you receive emails from your suppliers over the weekend after a national holiday!
In summary, when your supplier or China business contact tells you they will be closed for an upcoming holiday, it is a good idea to know how to respond. Responding in a appropriate way demonstrates cultural awareness, as well as respect for the limited periods of rest we all enjoy. Just as it would be inappropriate to demand that an American respond to your email on December 25th, so too you risk appearing rude and insensitive if you demand replies to your emails in the middle of Chinese New Year.
Also note that just as we might do in the US, it is common for employees to take a couple of days in personal leave to extend their vacations. This can mean the absence of your key contact for 5, 7, even 10 days! If your contact tells you they will be away, ask them who you should speak with in the case of an emergency.
Why not take a moment now to add these holidays to your calendar? Not only will you be better prepared for holiday closures, but you can use each as a chance to demonstrate your cultural awareness, thereby strengthening ties with your Chinese contacts.