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Updated 9/28/2020

If I were a Chinese student, I think I’d look forward to the fall semester. Yes, it means a new school year, but it’s the time for two big Chinese national holidays. My teachers probably would still give me homework, but still, no school! I’d have some valuable free time, and my family might even go on a vacation. Normally, there’s the Mid-Autumn Festival, and then shortly after starts National Day Golden Week. This year, though, both holidays begin on the same day, Thursday, October 1st.

Golden Week is a seven day holiday from October 1st to the 7th. It kicks off with China’s National Day. For centuries, China had national days to commemorate the birthday or coronation day of the emperor. In modern times, National Day is on October 1st and celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

A very, very short history of China

Chairman Mao Zedong

Chairman Mao Zedong, 1963

For millennia, China had was ruled by various dynasties and emperors. The desire for China to move into the modern age and resist foreign influence led to the Xinhai Revolution in 1912. It ended Imperial China and established a republic. However, the government was weak, leading to competing military factions to control the country in the early 20th century. During this period, the National Party and Communist Party began to consolidate power and fight against each other. Finally, in 1949, the communist army controlled most parts of the country, and the People’s Republic of China was formed in September that year.

The ceremony to celebrate its foundation took place on October 1st. During the ceremony, Chairman Mao Zedong raised the national flag in Tiananmen Square for the first time and officially announced the establishment of the state and government. Since then, China’s National Day has been held annually on this date.

Flower displays in Beijing during Golden WeekCelebrations

Today, Tiananmen Square in Beijing has some of the largest celebrations in the country. Early in the morning, visitors can watch guards raise the flag and sing the national anthem. In the evening, the government arranges elaborate fireworks displays. Similar patriotic displays happen in cities around the country. In Shanghai, the evening firework show occurs over the Bund, the iconic waterfront area. Other festivities during National Day include traditional and contemporary music concerts and dance performances.

Parades on National Day are common as well. In Beijing, there is a large military parade every fifth year, and every tenth year there’s an even grander parade. For the 60th anniversary, service men and women trained for 12 hours a day for months to perfect their formation and ensure each step was precisely 0.75 m long. The parade included a speech from the president, floats, thousands of school children and an aerial show.

Beijing is also known for the Flower Bed Festival. In the days leading up to October 1st, landscaping crews work to arrange various types of plants and flowers into designs around Tiananmen Square and the city. The displays vary every year, including slogans, Chinese attractions, and technological advancements.


Shanghai SkylineGolden Week

There are actually two Golden Weeks in China when workers are given a full week’s holiday. The first is during the Spring Festival in January or February. Since 1999, the Chinese government has extended National Day into the second Golden Week of the year.

Many people and families take advantage of the time off for travel. Last year numbers hit a peak because Mid-Autumn Festival fell in the middle of Golden Week and gave workers an extra day of vacation. Nearly 700 million people traveled for Golden Week last October. This year the festival was at the end of September, so some people may have combined the two holidays to make a 16-day long vacation.

Within China, common destinations are Beijing, Shanghai and other popular Chinese tourist destinations. Many people come to join the National Day celebrations in the major cities, while others head to the countryside to escape urban life. These days, international travel is becoming more popular too. Ctrip, a Chinese online travel agency reports that the top destinations outside of Mainland China are Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

As an online ESL teacher, it’s an exciting time of year for me as well. As my Chinese students are on vacation, that means I get a bit of a holiday too! Or at least, I can set my alarm clock to go off a few hours later. When they return to our classes, I take the chance to engage in extra discussion and ask what they did for National Day or Golden Week.

What about you? What would you do with a week-long holiday?

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