Golden Week in the Pearl of the Orient
The Chinese annual calendar has two ‘golden weeks’ which, when combined with a weekend, give seven consecutive days of National holiday. The most famous ‘golden week’ holiday is during Chinese New Year, which occurs in late January or early February as determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. The second ‘golden week’ takes place from October 1st to the 7th and is in celebration of the National day of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is officially on October 1st. This year the celebrations will begin on the evening of Friday 30th September and find their climax on Saturday 1st with government and privately organized events taking place throughout the day.
October 1st 1949 marks a prestigious day in the history of modern China. It was on this day that Chairman Mao Zedong declared victory on the war of liberation and officially founded the PRC with the waving of the first five star flag. Around 300,000 soldiers and people gathered in Beijing’s Tian’anmen square to witness this event, highlighted by a grand celebration parade. Throughout the decades, Tian’anmen square has remained the center of China’s political pulse and, as such, plays a key role in the celebrations of National day.
In the past, this day was marked by large political gatherings, but in 1999, as China’s economy began its swift development, National day became a seven-day national holiday. Many workers across China are allowed at least a portion of this period to visit friends and family and will usually receive up to three days of paid vacation. In recent years, many of China’s other festivals have stopped being recognized as public holidays. However it is believed that National Day ‘golden week’ continues to be beneficial for a number of reasons: it improves the national standard of living by allowing those working away from home the opportunity to visit loved ones, which has a huge positive effect on domestic tourism.
Photo: The bullet trains are one of the fastest and most efficient ways of travelling within China.
Statistics released in 2000 report that 59.82 million people travel in China during National day ‘golden week’, and since the subsequent boom in China’s economy, this figure is estimated to have risen substantially. In the world’s most populous country, this sudden mass migration makes travelling difficult, time consuming, and above all, expensive. The cost of accommodation and travel tickets during this seven-day period is between two and three times the usual price. Additionally, it is not possible to book train tickets considerably in advance as they only become available up to ten days before the departure date.
Shanghai is the business capital of China, as well as being its most populated city, housing around 23 million people and, as such, the surge of people entering and leaving the city will be considerable. Shanghai was listed in the top ten tourist destinations during ‘Golden Week’ 2010, as released on 7th October 2010. It is therefore advisable to be aware of how busy the public transport system and popular, more touristic areas will become, especially during the National Day weekend. If you are planning to travel outside of Shanghai, leave plenty of time to get to your place of departure, as roads and metros will likely be packed with people.
If you have opted to spend the holiday in the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, you will have a great opportunity to witness some of the celebrations and events that Shanghai has to offer. On Friday 30th September, a large crowd of people will gather at Jing’an temple at around 7pm and march down Nanjing road to the bund to watch a fireworks display, staged in Pu Dong’s Century Park. Additionally, there will be live music, traditional Chinese food and the opportunity to soak in the festive atmosphere. The choice of location for the occasion is made more pertinent by the impressive statue of Mao Zedong, which stands next to the river, overlooking the bund. It is an experience worth having, however it is not for those who do not like being in a throng of over a million people brandishing blow up hammers, glow sticks and an array of flashing memorabilia that is sold on every street corner.
For a more low key experience, Shanghai hosts a National Day brunch and concert at the impressive petal-shaped Shanghai Orient Art Centre in PuDong at 10am on Saturday 1st October. Tickets cost between 30 and 80 Yuan, depending on seating and further details can be found on their website.
Photograph: the Shanghai Orient Art Centre.
On the evening of the 1st October, many of the bars in Shanghai will host special National Day events, however many of these bars, especially around the French Concession, may be pricey and overcrowded. A less expensive option is Windows Too at Jing’an temple, which offers a lively atmosphere, an eclectic selection of music and reasonably priced drinks and bar food; on Saturday there will be an additional National Day treat of one free drink upon entry.
The Shanghainese people do not have any particular traditions during this ‘golden week’ as it is predominantly used as a time to travel and be with loved ones. “We usually have a big meal together with family or friends on the Saturday but it’s not like the moon festival, we don’t have any special food for this holiday. Mainly we just travel to other cities,” says Yu Ying, a local Shanghainese resident. However, you can expect to see the brandishing of the five star flag on street lamps across the city, as well as traditional Chinese red decorations in shops and restaurants. The best time to visit the more touristic areas is during meal times, due to the fact that the Chinese take the process of meals very seriously, especially during festive periods, and will very rarely miss a meal, so these areas will be less crowded.
Photograph: The five star flag lines streets across the city.
While this week has been described as “crazy, crowded and slightly over bearing,” it encapsulates a lot of what can be seen to be the essence of China. The massive crowds, Nationalistic spirit and desire for excess are all part of what China has become and what makes modern China a diverse and enigmatic place to be. Shanghai, a city of bright lights and buzzing energy, is a great place to experience National Day. And due to the size of the city, if the large crowds aren’t for you there are many districts in which to escape. Hongkou district, to the North of Pu Xie, has retained much of its traditional Chinese elements such as street markets and Chinese houses and is a great place in which to get lost and observe the culture away from the intensity of central Shanghai. There are also several beautiful parks around the city, particular favourites, which somewhat avoid the more popular destinations are Zhong Shan Park in Changning disrict and Lucian Park in Hongkou.
Sophie Turton is a Contributor for ShanghaiExpat. If you have any comments or questions about this article, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.