I visited the Forbidden City on this snowy day because I figured that it would not be especially crowded and that the snow would create interesting opportunities to photograph the buildings and interior spaces. I was wrong on both counts. Although it was probably a bit less crowded than usual, there were plenty of people visiting in spite of the snow. As for photo opportunities, by the end of 2006 Beijing’s Olympic facelift was well underway and, disappointingly, I found most of the major buildings within the Forbidden City shrouded in scaffolding for renovations. The day was nonetheless not a loss photographically. Among other subjects, I encountered this tour group of rather disgruntled looking people from somewhere in greater China.
Winter swimming in Houhai is a cold weather pastime for a (very) small group of Beijing men. I cannot recall what prevented this small area of open water along the north side of the lake from freezing over. But there was more than enough room for a dip and the winter swimmers wasted no time taking advantage of it. I do recall this was a very cold Beijing Christmas day with temperatures below 0°/32°. My hands were freezing holding the camera.
The four red characters in the yellow sign at the upper right mean, roughly, “reasonably prosperous life” or perhaps “moderately prosperous life”. Guaranteeing all Chinese a reasonably prosperous life is one of the Communist Party’s stated goals and the expression “小康生活” (xiaokang shenghuo) appears regularly in the Chinese media and Party publications. In any case, I think the expression nicely frames the Beijing street scene going on below the sign.
October 1 is China’s National Day commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Nowadays National Day begins the seven day Golden Week holiday during which Chinese take off en masse to visit the country’s historical and scenic attractions. Xinhua, the government controlled and run wire service, reports that 34.25 million people visited China’s 119 major tourist attractions (China’s tourism industry reaps golden harvest). A bit of arithmetic reveals that an average of 287,800 people visited each of these attractions during the holiday week. That’s an average of 41,000 people a day. In fact Xinhua reports that on October 2 186,000 people passed through the Forbidden City, historically the home of Chinese emperors in the center of Beijing.
By way of contrast, the average number of daily visitors to several US National Parks and Monuments during July 2011 (the peak month for each of these locales) came to 29,258 for Yellowstone, 23,991 for Rocky Mountain National Park, 22,727 for Yosemite, 21,124 for the Grand Canyon, 17,862 for the Statue of Liberty and 2,470 for the Washington Monument.
In fact virtually any place remotely appealing or interesting in China is inundated with people during the Golden Week. I used the holiday as an opportunity to practice crowd photography and read an interesting book. It is not a week to travel. Most of my expatriate friends and quite a few Chinese friends feel the same way.
One of the reasons so many Chinese travel during this holiday is because they have so few other opportunities to do so. Many Chinese companies do not give personal vacation time to employees. Huawei where I worked for two and a half years is fairly typical. Chinese staff have off China’s ten public holidays each year (though they are required to work the last Saturday of every month, in effect giving back to the company the time off for holidays). The company offers no vacation benefit. Employees can petition supervisors for leave for personal leave time, but taking more than a few days is frowned upon. Some Chinese companies do give a week or two of vacation time, but it is common for employees never to apply to take the time. Chinese friends have told me that management often expects employees not to take their vacation time. The benefit is window dressing only. Even Chinese working for foreign companies in China have told me they have never applied to take the paid vacation time they are entitled to by contract. Holidays with Chinese characteristics.