I had one thought this year when I saw China’s public holiday schedule — man we’re going to have to work a lot of Sundays this year. When I first came to China almost five and half years ago, this idea of working weekends to create a week-long holiday was one of the country’s great mysteries. In my home country of Canada this idea would be considered ridiculous. But then again the entire country taking a week off would also be thought of as kind of silly. What’s the point of it all? Especially since most people just take the day off. 

I’m usually one of those people, but since I’m in the process of switching jobs at the moment I’m going to lose the opportunity to do that. And I can only justify using the day to catch up on work one or two times during the year. If I don’t have tasks to do then the day feels like a waste and the fact that it’s on a Sunday — a day that for me is one where I tend to just curl up with a book– something that I can’t do in the office.  

I don’t understand why the government can’t just give us the day off? As I’ve said the day isn’t a very productive one. I guess the reason is that if they did that there’d be more lost production but it’s only really three Sundays a year. The government should just throw us a bone and give us the time off. People here work really hard — and some don’t get any additional annual leave from their companies — so they should at least get a couple of Sundays. Six-day work weeks can just be soul crushing otherwise.

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About JohnG

John Guise is a Canadian who came to Shanghai on a whim after been laid off from his newspaper job in 2003. Four years later, he’s become pretty good at Mandarin and visited a lot of Chinese factories. He's currently a staff writer for a China-based business magazine.

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Discussion

17
  1. Pingback: Why Do We Have to Work On Sundays? at One-Eyed Panda’s Journal

  2. Good point. You’re not the first person to say it, but I know that all the expat foreigners feel this way.

    As you said, nothing can kill the spirit more than a 6-day work week.

  3. Well 5 day work weeks come from Christian culture, giving them the “Lord’s Day” of Sunday off, and the “Sabbath Day” of Saturday off too. One should not expect Sundays off in countries that do not have a Christian history. And if you have others day off, what is so bad with working 6 Sundays a year? But then again, I live in America and work every Sundays, being in sales. Of course I do have 2 days off a week, even though I have to work 12+ hours on 4 of those 5 days a week that I work.

  4. @尼克 In many non-Christian societies a five-day work week is obsserved such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai (they have Fridays and Saturdays off). I just don’t think six-day work weeks should be allowed.

    J.

  5. Oh, I agree it has become the norm, but it was Christianity that brought the concept of the 5-day work week in a 7-day week to many cultures and started the trend’s popularity. My wife is currently working 7 day weeks in China, and I wish it was only a 5 or 6 day week.

  6. @Nick, didn’t people have to work over 70 hours per week in the early days of the Industrial Revolution? Where was Christianity then? Was the trade union a new branch of it?

  7. Hey, I am just describing the Western notion of why the 5 day work week was brought in with the 7 day calendar.

    The Roman Republic and Empire, like the Etruscans, used a “market week” of eight days (known as the nundinal cycle). From around the 1st century, with the spread of Christianity, the Roman eight-day week was replaced gradually by the seven-day week. Lithuanians used a week of nine days before adopting Christianity.

    But here is some interesting information of note for the launch of the 7-day week in the East: The Chinese use of the seven day week (and thus Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, and Vietnamese use) traces back to the 600s CE. The 28 stars were arranged in order of sun, moon, fire, water, wood, gold, earth, and every 7 days were called “qi-yao”. The days were assigned to each of the luminaries, but the week did not affect social life or the official calendar. The law in the Han Dynasty required officials of the empire to rest every 5 days, called “mu”, while it was changed into 10 days in the Tang Dynasty, called “huan” or xún (旬). The 7 days “week” in ancient China is mostly kept in astrological purposes and cited in several Buddhist texts until the Jesuits reintroduced the concept in the 16th century.

  8. Oops, rereading this, I see that I forgot to add that in the modern West, it was really Henry Ford in the 1900’s who reinstated the 5 day workweek (improving it to make it 5 8 hour shifts for a total of 40 hours worked each 7 days) with 2 days of rest on the weekend. His idea made the workers so happy and productive that other industries quickly followed his model.

  9. I’m currently teaching at a training school where I teach 20 hours a week, 6 days a week. And my day off is always different – sometimes it’s a Tuesday, or a Thursday, or a Sunday. It sucks. Which is why I’m looking for a new school next year….Anyway for the national holidays I’m already working Sat and Sun most weeks, so the switching around hasn’t affected me too much this year. My school only gives the gov’t mandated days off though, so for example I only had Oct 1-3 off while most people had 5-7 days.

  10. Etruscans / Romans = 8 day work week
    Europe / Asia = 7 day work week
    Henry Ford (1900s) = 5 day work week
    Tim Ferriss (2000s) = 4 hour work week

    I like where this is going.

  11. Sundays Off??? Six day work week? What expat fantasy is this.

    Last job I worked INSISTED on 7 day work weeks, at least 12 hours a day for expats as well as locals.

    You were allowed one day off a month to do the HK visa run, but you’d better make up the time. This was for a Chinese-owned factory, working for a Chinese General Manager.

    One of our customers, a European company, worked, as far as I can tell, 24/7. They were put out and rather angry that we didn’t work the factory 24/7. Very upset that we took National Day Oct 1st off.

    Not sure it has anything to do with culture, the 6-7 day work weeks here in China, nor religion. All to do with the $$$$ (or RMB)

  12. I’m tutoring 7 days a week & Mrs. Jamieson (Chinese) is doing 6 out of 7 a week in Shanghai, 80 km from here. I snapped and took Xmas day, then 26 Dec + New years’ Day off – today.

    I need a long break. I fancy trout fishing and camping in Afghanistan but there’s too many land mines of the border between it and China. Also a tourist visa might be too hard to get.

    J.

  13. I’m a Chinese currently living in the U.S.

    There is an important reason (if not the most important one) why China try to move the weekend to form a long holiday break: most people do not have vacations time like westerner. Westerner take vacation when they want and can afford to do so. However, the only chance for most Chinese to take “vacations” is during holiday season.

    More and more companies started to offer a few days annually. Both of my sisters work for foreign firms, one has 7 days and the other one has 12 days. When more companies have similar vacation systems like the ones in western world, you probably will see dramatic drop in holiday traffic around new year, 5/1, 10/1.

  14. Thanks Jay, but from what I see a lot of Chinese companies already offer annual leave and I remember reading last year that state-owned companies were told to implement annual leave programs based on years of service last year when the central government tried to cut the number of Golden Weeks to two in favour of three-day weekends. So I don’t see why we are still working Sundays.

    In terms of Chinese people taking vacations now I just see Chinese people taking longer vacations with their annual leave during the shortened holidays.

    J.

  15. Just call in sick or pull a “work from home”. A lot of Expats do that, your manager back home will understand and the Chinese will anyway not challenge you for that.

  16. I like all the answers here (almost all). The Christian arguement is good, so is the Muslim/Saudi one. I do think however, the answer lies in, they want to move forward as fast and broadly country-wise as possible, because they are just beside themselves (the gov’t, private enterprise) they are now #2 in the world of economy! It’s just work, work work, and complain? There are several 10s of millions to take your place, complainer! LOL I miss China, I really do. Guess I need to get back there. Hope to in later ’13 or early ’14. All the best to you and yours

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