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Will China achieve a four-day work week by 2030, as experts recommend?

China has always been known as a hardworking nation, and this was in evidence again with the publication of The Green Book of China’s Leisure: Annual Report on China’s Leisure Development (2017-2018), on July 13 by the combined efforts of the National Academy of Economic Strategy (NAES), the Tourism Research Center (TRC) of Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS), and Social Sciences Academic Press (China).

According to the report, Chinese had only 2.27 hours’ leisure time outside of working and sleeping each day in 2017. Those in “first-tier cities”—Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing—had only 1.94, 2.04, 2.14 and 2.25, respectively, less than half of those in Western countries like the United States, Germany, and Great Britain.

To address the problem, the authors of the report proposed that middle and large state-owned enterprises take the lead in implementing a four-day work week schedule, each with nine working hours, in the most developed eastern regions of China by 2020-2025, in eastern and central China by 2026-2029, and the whole country by 2030.

This is not the first proposal of its kind. In 2015, the State Council encouraged institutions to give employees Friday afternoons, Saturdays, and Sundays off—effectively a 2.5-day weekend—provided it does not reduce productivity. Experts like Ding Hong of the Jiangsu Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, and Su Hainan, deputy president of the China Association for Labor Studies, however, find this schedule impractical for the near future, due to China’s level of economic development. Ding pointed out to Dahe News that it had taken some European countries over 100 years to realize four working days, and decades for China to implement even two-day weekends.

In contrast to experts’ reasoning, netizens are more pessimistic, mostly based on personal experience:

Even the five-day work week has not been fully implemented. What’s the point proposing four working days?

It’s for the benefit of civil servants, they can do whatever they want

Could overtime pay be implemented first?

The gripes center on a few longstanding controversies in Chinese labor regulations: the failure of enterprises to stick to a five-day work week schedule with eight working hours per day, the lack of standardized overtime pay, and different ways in which “standardized” institutions and enterprises and “un-standardized” private enterprises interpret holiday schedules—a difference that has led to deadly consequences. Critics of the four-day work week policy argue that if these issues are not addressed, the new schedule could only result in longer “forced” overtime without pay.

Beijing News, though, finds the proposal reasonable, even plausible, as automation and AI become the norm in many industries. Let’s hope our robot overlords are more willing to respect the labor laws…

Correction July 25, 1:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Ding Hong and Su Hainan considered the new holiday scheduled to be plausible, rather than implausible.


author Tan Yunfei (谭云飞)

Tan Yunfei is the editorial director of The World of Chinese. She reports on Chinese language, food, traditions, and society. Having grown up in a rural community and mainly lived in the cities since college, she tries to explore and better understand China's evolving rural and urban life with all readers.

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