Joy And Relief As Millions Travel For Golden Week Holiday

The October 1 National Day celebrations kicked off China’s “Golden Week,” the annual seven-day travel holiday. This year, National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival overlap, extending the holiday period for an extra day. According to state media, 550 million Chinese are expected to travel this year. China’s other major national holiday, Lunar New Year, was canceled this January in order to contain the spread of coronavirus. China currently reports 186 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (although China’s past infection numbers have been controversial) , and the country’s control over the virus allows for a return to most normal social and economic activity. Leaked censorship directives from January reveal that officials wanted to minimize the economic impact of the pandemic by stifling reports on the true nature and transmission of the coronavirus. For the New York Times, Vivian Wang reports on the holiday as a public health triumph and a gauge of economic recovery:

In any year, the outlay of the weeklong holiday is a closely watched barometer of the country’s economic health. This year it may be especially so, offering the clearest measure yet of China’s recovery from the pandemic as people squeeze into train cars, crowd into ancient temples, and do everything else that people in many other countries can still only dream of.

The early signs seem to confirm two trends. First: China has returned to near normalcy with remarkable speed. And second: Even so, the ripple effects of the pandemic are hard to shake off. [Source]

During the Lunar New Year this January, residents of Wuhan, the virus epicenter, canceled travel plans and mulled the dangers of the pandemic. Today, Wuhan’s iconic Yellow Crane Tower is hosting public night tours for the first time since 1985, the city is named as a top travel destination, and residents are attempting to forget the trauma of the lockdown. For The Times, Didi Tang documents the flood of tourists that have accompanied Wuhan’s recovery:

The Wuhan Sports Centre, which served as an emergency quarantine hospital for virus sufferers at the height of the pandemic, reopened this week with a 10km run involving 2,000 runners dressed in patriotic red.

The Chinese city that was the epicentre of the outbreak is booming again, with airlines adding more flights to handle a surge of travellers for the first extended public holiday since January 23, when it was shut down and sealed as the outbreak raged among its 11 million inhabitants.[Source]

Some travel restrictions remain in place: tourist sites have been instructed to limit visitors to 75% of capacity, and limits on international travel practically force tourists to stay in the country. State broadcasters captured videos of mask-less crowds flaunting the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s mask and social-distance recommendations. For CNN, Nectar Gan explores the logistics behind holidayers on the move:

China’s railway operator, China State Railway Group, expected a total of 108 million train rides from September 28 to October 8. To cope with the increased Mid-Autumn Festival demand, an additional 1,200 trains have been added to service, but some tickets along popular routes have been snapped up anyway.

Some flights have also sold out. Qunar, a Chinese online travel booking site, estimated more than 15 million domestic flight tickets would be sold for Golden Week, a 10% increase from 2019, partly due to a drop in the price of airfares.

And on Chinese highways, massive traffic jams are expected again this year. An average of 51 million highway trips per day are expected during the eight-day holiday, a 1% to 3% increase from last year, according to the Transport Ministry. [Source]

A timelapse video by the AFP shows the scale of travel:

Last year’s National Day ceremony, which marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, was accompanied by a troop review in Tiananmen presided over by Xi Jinping. This year’s celebration was more subdued, with a flag-raising ceremony taking pride of place. In Nikkei Asia, Chana Che argues that a Harvard Ash Center report on public support for the CCP should not immunize the Party from criticism:

The Oct. 1 National Day celebrations are a sight to behold: throngs of patriots gather in Tiananmen Square to observe a military procession; countless red flags hang from the porches of residential homes; families across the country gather for the yearly ritual of binging on state television.

To outside observers, these genuine displays of national pride defy conventional theories of what life under a dictatorial regime should look like. Recent public opinion polls should help rid us of these illusions.

[…] We value public opinion polls and approval ratings because they serve as a proxy for measuring government performance and legitimacy. In autocratic societies, the value of this metric deteriorates. [Source]


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