May Day in China

Yesterday was International Workers Day, a public holiday in China. More than that, it's the beginning of one of China's three annual 金黄周/"golden weeks", official public holidays lasting 7 days. The others are 国庆节/National Day (starting October 1), celebrating the founding of 中华人民共和国/the People's Republic, and 春节/Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year, usually sometime in February), China's most important holiday. The fact that May Day merits inclusion in that illustrious company is a jarring reminder that the country is still nominally Communist.

Tho not much more than that. Even more than the USA's thoroughly domesticated Labor Day, May Day in China represents all those forces exploiting, disempowering, and marginalizing workers. Most of China's new middle classes get a week off work, using the time to pursue the consumerist dreams inculcated in them by the commercial forces that have overwhelmed China. Tourism is the most visible pursuit, as millions upon millions make for the beaches of 大连/Dalian and 青岛/Qingdao, the national monuments and famous parks of 北京/Beijing, the bright lights of 上海/Shanghai, or the natural wonders of Southwest China. Shopping is the next biggest priority, and shopping meccas like 香港/Hongkong or local centers like Beijing's 西单/Xidan and 王府井/Wangfujing are inundated with the winners from 改革开放/reform and opening.

The consumerist excesses of the holiday could hardly be possible without all those workers who serve the needs of the nouveaux riches. In a poignant reversal of May Day's original meaning, the most exploited workers are made to stay on the job in order to answer to the beck and call of moneyed few.

Meanwhile, as May Day becomes a ritual performance of China's class domination in the cities, the majority of the population looks on from the sidelines of the countryside, having gained too little from reform and opening to do anything but yearn for the consumerist visions that have established hegemony in China.

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