New Year's holiday versus Chinese industriousness
New year's begins on January 23rd, yet many businesses are already shut down because workers have left early for their home towns.
I have been noticing that there are a lot of holidays in China, and workers often extend them beyond the official days.
How does this jibe with the world-wide stereotype of the industrious Chinese worker?
I guess stereotypes are meant t be challenged by actual experience, no?
I don't think that there's any contradiction. You know what they say - work hard, party harder!
The Chinese don't have legally-mandated minimum vacation time at all, so I think you have to keep that in mind when examining "industriousness". Compare that with France, where the minimum is five weeks off with two weeks of reduced hours! Mandatory state holidays fill in that gap a little bit, but because everyone takes them at once, they sometimes seem more significant to Westerners.
Many people here also have longer working hours here (9 or 10 hours with minimal lunch breaks) and longer work weeks (especially in industry, often Monday to Saturday.) Add that all together, and you'll find that the "stereotype" of industriousness holds quite true - not of individuals necessarily, but of a culture that takes work quite seriously.
Actually, some workers leave early but also have to come back earlier. It depends on employer and on payrolls. Some take unpaid holidays because they have to travel half-way across the country by train, by bus and on a donkey (no kidding - some places like in Muli county in Sichuan are only accessible on horses or donkeys). And it takes good 2-3 days to reach there.
Mostly this happens during Spring Festival holidays as other public holidays have been shortened and spread throughout the year (e.g instead of 5 days May holidays it is now 3 but there is 1 extra for Ching Ming festival and 1 for Dragon Boat festival). So many people only have 1 official holiday if at all and they can't afford traveling on other holidays.
I guess in 10 years in China I am not surprised about these things anymore and I make sure to buy e.g. water and gas in advance so that I don't end up without either during the holidays. For example, Our intercom just stopped functioning and after talking over with the guard downstairs we were told that the management has closed down till the end of the month except for a couple of stuff who are there for some grand emergencies (like a water pipe breaking down or something). So whoever comes to visit us has to ask the guard to open the door downstairs or wait for some others who live here to open the door :)
The actual fact is China workers have the same or more holidays than workers around the world. In 2012 the official public holidays are 25, some of these are Sundays but it is still around 20 public holidays. Also companies now have to give minimum 5 days mandatory holidays which makes the total vacation time for a China worker one of the best. The difference being is for the Chinese they are dictated to for their long holidays rather than the European way of choosing when you have 2 weeks holiday.
Since 2008 the labour laws have changed to ensure the rights of workers is now very strong, of course there are still local factory owners who ignore this but that is demonstrated by the increase in strikes. The maternity/paternity leave benefit and the difficulty is being able to fire a worker without compensation is shown in these new rights.
Some people say the government are spreading the holidays and increasng them to encourage more spending, time off = shopping, and therefore helps the economy.
I don't think people think of the industrious Chinese but realise things get done quicker here because there are more people rather than because they are more industrious. People here think only of themselves and are motivated solely by money, if they think they will get more money they will work harder if they don't get more money they won't.
My guess is that none of you has actually spent much time in a Chinese factory. The workers there do not work all that hard, IMHO.
And what about the stores around Zhuhai that have more employees standing around than customers?
And how about those silly security guards in McDonald's. Now they really bust their a#$!
I could go on and on.......
I agree with Dave B and have left previous comment but for some reason it hasn't been posted. 23 public holidays and a mandatory minimum 5 days means the Chinese have many more vacations than the rest of the world. Using the French example is choosing an extreme.
They are only interested in themselves and in money, hardwork doesn't come into it. They get things done quickly because there are more of them that's all. Go into any shop or restaurant and they seem fed up that they have to do work, in factories if they are not being watched they sit around and stand up when the boss or visitors are around.
You should also consider the conditions they work in and the pay they get :o) It is a very big discussion. There are some things we will never understand because we have never been in their shoes and hopefully would never be.
Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone! Enjoy your holidays and the comfort you live in! :o)
I would like to know where the "23 holidays" statistic comes from, because I'd like to better understand your point of view. According to Wikipedia, there are only seven public holidays in the PRC: New Year's Day, Chinese New Year, Qingming Festival, Labor Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and National Day. Although two of these (Chinese New Year and National Day) include a three-day break, the total is only 11 days off - a figure that compares favourably with many Western nations. For example, Canadian statutory holidays consist of between 6-11 (depending on the province) days per year.
To correct my earlier post, there do indeed seem to be five minimum days off per year. However, that falls far short of global averages. Taking again the example of Canada, which has some of the lowest mandatory vacation time in the world, we arrive at 14–28 working days, depending on seniority.
In short, I'm a little perplexed, because all of the people that I've met here seem to work very hard, very often, for relatively little pay. Perhaps I'm just missing something. Regardless, thank you all for an interesting discussion!
@Toby and Dominic,
If you consider that it's 6 day work week for most (blue or white collar) in China, they actually have by FAR fewer "off" days per year compare to those in other western or westernized countries. Frustrations aside, whether or not you think Chinese are lazy you can't deny the productivity and GDP numbers coming out of China.
Have a nice day!
Then I would suggest that you take your business and money to some other countries where you feel workers are selfless, interested only in hard work and not money.
Also, don't forget that most Chinese employees (blue or white collar) work a 6 day work week. Considering there are 52 weeks in a year, you'd be able to figure out that they are having far fewer "off" days per year than most industrialized countries.
You make a good point about the number of days off of work. From a quality of life perspective (how much time you have to spend with your family and doing things you like to do away from work) it would seem that the Chinese are at a disadvantage.
But I personally don't equate the amount of time spent on the job with "hard work". They are very different in my mind.
What I read from Dominic was a statement which I have to assume came from his experience from business in China. The suggestion I gave about taking his business somewhere else is completely legitimate given his broad statement on his perception with the Chinese workers he feel are of little value. Now as a businessman, why would you keep buying from a factory with a bunch of lazy workers that are only interested taking as much money from you as they can? Why not take your business to where you think workers are more interested in hard work, product quality, and on time delivery?
Part of my day to day responsibilities is managing multiple suppliers that OEM our products here in China. I have to say that some of the hardest workers I've ever worked with ARE Chinese. IMHO it's all a matter of who and what kind of suppliers you (your company) align yourself with and how you manage (motivate) them, you simply can't just paint all factories with a same broad paint brush.
There are lazy people everywhere. But honestly.....how bad (low productivity?) can the Chinese work culture be when so many companies have setup or are setting up shops here? From major car manufacturers including Mercedes and BMWs, home appliances to computers to one of the world's most popular phone.......just about everything people have bought or are buying around the world?
Like anywhere, if an employer provide good incentives, his people will work hard.
In my thirty year plus working life I've worked in many places and many types of industry in the UK. The only people I've ever met who I would consider really 'hard working' are the people who benefit directly from that hard work. Mostly it's the business owners or those paid by results. The vast majority of people I've worked with turn up and do the minimum required to keep their jobs. Why? Because they are given no incentive to work any harder, so why should they?
Also quite a few 'bosses' I've worked for are way more lazy than the employees they constantly harass to work harder so that they, the bosses, can make more money. Once they build their business up and employ other people to run them, they spend more time on the golf course or on holiday or doing other non business related things than they do at work.
The average worker in a factory, shop or office in China in my experience works longer hours for less money than their UK counterparts. Yes, they sometimes spend time sitting around doing nothing when there's nothing to be done, which is the fault of bad management, but when there is work to be done they get on and do it. One of the reasons I came to China was to escape the incessant complaining and whining and the lazyness of my colleagues back in the UK.
@Matt - The official 2012 public holidays are:
• New Year holiday: Jan 1-Jan 3 - 3 days
• Spring Festival: Jan 22-Jan 28 - 7 days
• QingMing: Apr 2-4 - 3 days
• Labour Day: Apr 29-May 1 - 3 days
• Dragon Boat Festival: June 22-24 - 3 days
• Mid-Autumn and National Holiday: Sep30-Oct7 - 8 days
Total: 26 days official public holidays, however due to some of these falling on a Sunday I reduced to 23 days. This is the officially released public holidays by the government. The 3 days breaks you mention are in Hong Kong but more in mainland.
@atlarge - I don't think you will find any country where workers are only interested in hard work and not money. My point is that there is a big myth about the productivity in China, unfortunately there are people like you who get very emotional and defensive about China rather than looking at the facts. There is a high productivity when a factory can put double the amount of people onto a problem and when they pay people by volume produced, but this is a very good reason why foreign companies have to pay extra in China to have quality checks monitoring what is produced. Most companies won't have their own quality team within an OEM producer on the production line but they do in China - why?!?
It is also not correct to state that the hardest workers in the world are Chinese as there is such a wide variation within China, I can give you a list of the hardest workers I've met and it is a wide range of countries with some of them in China. Unfortunately some of the laziest and most corrupt I have come across are in China but I didn't say all. Due to the sudden increase in wealth people in China are becoming much more focussed on money and showing their wealth, just see the shopping groups return from Hong Kong with their high value goods. Within companies I deal with it is a common discussion about whatever you offer the people just want more rather than being satisfied with what they have even when it is good. I have heard of someone (white-collar) being given a 25% pay rise and complaining afterwards they wanted more.
When you mention taking business elsewhere that is happening with a large number of companies moving OEM business to Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, etc. We have resourced products to Vietnam and have even switch some projects back to Europe. It doesn't mean we will leave China, especially because like the automotive industry if you want the Chinese to buy it makes mroe financial sense to produce in China to reduce transport costs and import duty. It is also a lot easier and cheaper to hire a few thousand people in China than anywhere else, doesn't mean they are more productive but you get more for your buck!
Please don't misunderstand me, I still believe doing business in China can be positive for a company and I have some good suppliers but there shouldn't be a general myth that the Chinese are this amazing, productive country where everybody works huge amount of hours for no money. I am sure in the West of the country the 'old' ways still continue but in the South and coastal East it is a different story nowadays. It takes a lot of time and energy to monitor what is produced and that is exactly due to @doogs point about bad bosses.
@doogs - I 100% agree with your point.
You sure you want to delete the thread?
No one is getting personal and some really interesting viewpoints have been provided. I can't imagine why this thread should be deleted.
Of all the posts I read on this thread I don't see anyone talking about or selling ideas that there are some "myth" with amazing Chinese workers. As far as I can see, you're the only person mentioning it. And I see no one here getting emotional in this discussion other than again....you. The response I gave was pointing out the as well as questioning seeing the contradiction of your broad statement that all Chinese factory workers are lazy and wants nothing but money despite that your company's continual doing business with them. Excuse me for asking....if laziness, greed, and corruption are the only things you see in China, why did you even bring your business here in the first place? Do you truly believe that the amazing GDP numbers coming out of China year after year in the past 15 or so years is only because they can throw more people on a job than anyone? Last, I don's see any reason why my rebuttal or having a discussion on statement you've made should be taken as being emotional and an unfortunate event. I believe in open discussion & sharing of ideas...as this is what this forum is here for, nothing wrong or unfortunate about that. And why are you all of sudden having problems with the rich Chinese returning from big shopping trips in HK or anywhere? I seem to be detecting a stench of SPITE here Dominic. I do not have any problem with these "shoppers" as I'm sure most pay with cash for whatever they're buying all the while supporting jobs & economy that we enjoy. If anything I have more problems with the Americans and Europeans buying houses, SUVs, remodeling kitchens through bank loans or second/third mortgages when they should have not been qualified to receive in the first place. We all know the result of that, does the word "default" sounds familiar?
Regarding your last statement about companies having the need to devote large amount of resources to monitor suppliers because of what? Bad bosses? I have to ask again, why are you still doing business supporting these suppliers!!!??? If anyone that works for me are finding & aligning our company with these type of suppliers, they would be out of a job....like yesterday.
Dominic, could you provide a source? I can't find anything that confirms your "26 day" figure. Here's a detailed schedule for this year's public holidays throughout mainland China:
Part of what might confuse the issue is that the Saturday prior to a holiday and the Sunday after a holiday are often declared "working days". Thus, although the holiday lasts for a full seven days, two of those days are regular weekend days, two of them are "deferred" weekend days, and the net gain is actually three days.
Taking "Chinese New Year" as an example, you can see that three actual days of holiday can be stretched into a full week. Pretty clever, actually.
Share the website with us :o)
Just so I am clear, are you saying that you think that workers in China are, in general, more, less, or equally as productive as their counterparts in "Western" countries?
I'm assuming you're talking about factory workers (blue collar) and general manufacturing correct?
I'd say you'd get indisputably much higher productivity in return per dollar investment in China and I'd even go as far as saying that in most cases you'd likely get more productivity out of China than most Asian countries.
OK, understand your point about productivity on a return per dollar investment, though disagree about the "most Asian countries."
I wasn't necessarily talking about blue collar workers. However, if you want to use blue collar workers as an example, how about we look at something more objective than return per dollar of investment and say, for example, a boilermaker doing the same job in China compared to Australia, with the measure being weight of steel fabricated and welded (hand, not robotic).
1. per work day
2. per month
3. per year
What about if we use the same example above and deduct anything that doesn't pass NDT?
Or, another example, with regards to coal that reaches the surface from an underground coal mine:
1. Larger number of man hours in China or Australia for the same amount of coal, from similar Longwall operations?
I'm not a boilermaker nor am I coal mining expert, so I'm not going to comment on those questions.
But let's face it, dollar vs. return is the bottom-line of any business...or should I say....any business that wants to stay in business. Now I'm sure there are specific types of manufacturing or labor that are done outside of China for logistical or technological reasons...this I won't argue. After all, not EVERYTHING is made in China, though I do have to say that most are. Can argue that it's hard to find something that's not made in China these days correct? You don't have to agree with my comment about China being the preferred manufacturing site in Asia, but the fact speaks for itself. Even many large Asian companies from countries like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have moved their manufacturing to China & increasing capacities year after year. Again, this not by accident or because Chinese can throw more worker behind a job. The reality is because workers in China are capable of supporting these companies manufacturing requirements technically as well as productivity----because these workers are know for being easily trainable and hard working. Sure, many garment industries & other similar traditional manufacturing have been moved from China to countries like Vietnam or Indonesia but these manufacturing are being replaced (by design) with higher level (technologically) manufacturing such as computers, phones, hi fi systems, big screen tvs/home entertainment or even premium automobiles (Mercedes, BMWs, etc.). Now the question you need to ask shouldn't be "who has move their manufacturing to China?", it should be "who hasn't?". Can you tell me which other Asian countries are generally preferred over China on most traditional as well as non traditional types of manufacturing?
Honestly, I feel you are all over the place in your reply. I was looking for a rational debate on the points put forward by the OP, not an irrational argument. Your questions about what I should and shouldn't ask are complete red herrings when taken in the context of the thread.
Are you aware there are differences between the words "preferred" and "productivity"? A country can be a preferred manufacturing base for a lot of reasons. Many of these reasons have absolutely nothing to do with worker productivity. For example, we have moved some of our manufacturing to China for reasons such as:
1. Closer to our major client base in the coal industry (providing marketing and other strategic advantages)
2. Machinery is large and difficult to ship
3. Provides us with a facility for equipment overhaul
4. Reduced environmental controls over heavy industry
5. Lower taxes, etc, etc, etc
We have also moved manufacturing of some other equipment to China as we are a partner with an extremely large SOE, in a JV. The JV provides us with a monopoly on sales (to our partner) that would most certainly raise eyebrows in my home country. Again, a decision upon which worker productivity has absolutely no bearing.
Are you really arguing that the determinants of productivity I put forward (basically, man hours to do the same job) are either irrelevant or less objective than your return on dollar invested benchmarks? I would have thought they were pretty reasonable, given the size and importance of the Chinese heavy machinery and coal mining industries. You don't need to be an expert to provide answers to my questions. Come on, what would you gut tell you, honestly?
We have also invested in a plant in North Korea. The return per dollar invested there is much higher than it is in China; and I mean much higher. However, we aren't willing to risk a larger facility there as we simply don't trust the business environment, at this point. This may surprise some, we do not have the inherent quality issues with products coming out of North Korea that we do in China. With this as an example, don't you think dollar vs. return may just be a little too simplistic?
And yes, there has been a lot of manufacturing moved to China because Chinese companies can and do throw a lot of people behind a job, at a low cost; not because Chinese workers have a reputation for being easily trained and hardworking. Not all of it, and perhaps not the majority, but most certainly there has been a lot.
Given all of the above, I still both understand and/or agree with points made by other posters. For example, some of us wouldn't cross the road for the daily pay of a Chinese worker, so why should we expect that same Chinese worker to put in his best effort? I certainly wouldn't under the same circumstances.
I, obviously along with the OP, grew up with the stereotype of the super hardworking Chinese. Reality is different. Ignoring this reality is providing nothing in the way of a favour to the people of this country. There are many Chinese companies that will fail in the future if individual worker productivity doesn't increase with wages. It is inevitable. It is not meant to be judgmental.
Seeing you are stating that productivity and investment vs. return aren't part of consideration by businesses in deciding production location including the one that you work for is making me realize that it's almost becoming pointless to continue debating with you & that you're arguing just for the sake of arguing.
Contrary to my statement you said China isn't a preferred location for foreign companies to do business, fine, please enlighten me and tell me which other Asian country have and are receiving more investment $$ than China. Whichever country you come up with, then by definition it would be the "Preferred" country. So let's not start playing with words. I happen to believe China received the most investment $$ therefore I believe it's the "Preferred" country for investment:-) Now you've also said that some companies (such as the one that you worked for) under some very unique circumstances have decided to move production to China but do not take return vs. investment and or productivity under consideration---that's fine. But show a company that don't care about return or worker productivity & I'll show you a company that's on path to failure. Productivity=Return, no productivity, no $$$. If you still argue this, then it's certainly hopeless.
Since you've brought it up again going back to OP's original OP comment/question about Chinese "industriousness" because he thinks that the Chinese have too many holidays....I thought it's been settled already. Do you not agree that most Chinese workers have 6 day work weeks and because of that they have far fewer "off' days per year than most westernized countries. Can you seriously argue that? Are you even in China?
If you're talking about outsourced manufacturing processes, there are some recent developments that you might want to consider. Most foreign companies in the PRD are making a shift from "manufacture for export" to "manufacture for domestic industry", and have been for the past several years. China is becoming a viable consumer market for international companies, and decreasingly viable as a source of cheap labour. In an interview I did with the President of the American Chamber of Commerce recently, he told me that his organization actively discourages prospective members from doing this. (If you'd like to read the interview, you can find it in the upcoming "Spring" edition of our City Guide.) He thinks that the PRD is in the process of transitioning into a support centre for the aforementioned domestic industry.
On the other hand, companies like Apple have been moving here in droves for high-tech labour, often abandoning factories in the "developed" world to do so. There's been a lot of recent controversy in the American media about that. There's no question that labour in China is changing, but just how, or to what end, is a deep issue difficult to fathom.
Firstly, at no point did I say productivity and investment vs. return aren't considerations. It is patently ridiculous for you to say so.
Secondly, I never said China isn't a preferred location to do business, I said that it is, for many reasons, not just productivity and sometimes, not just return on dollar compared to other countries. I did; for example, point out that better return on dollar investment can be achieved in places like North Korea, but it comes with a Hail Mary, something a lot of companies wouldn't consider doing. Also, with regards to places like North Korea, many of the other advantages of doing business in China don't exist. I will also point out that productivity (as measured by man hours to do a job, and do it properly), at least in my industry, is much greater in Australia. By providing both of these examples, I am in no way saying that either North Korea or Australia are preferred places to do business, compared to China. I shouldn't have to mention that, but I have to in an attempt to limit your ability to read into my posts things that I am not saying. Congratulations on your ability to do that, by the way.
Given both of the above points, I believe you may be being a little disingenuous.
The conditions I outlined as they apply to our company are not unique. In fact they are exceedingly common, especially in heavy industry. How much experience do you have in this area?
You still never answered my questions; I wonder why?
I have been here for eight years, not a long time by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have some clue, I hope, especially given our level of success here.
Yes, I most definitely agree with you that Chinese workers have less days off than their Western counterparts. I should have been clearer on this point. You are absolutely correct. Hopefully this will change in the future as quality of life increases for these workers. Again, hopefully, reduced hours for all will become viable for companies as Chinese workers' productivity increases, meaning they take less time to do the same job.
FYI, though, our staff work a 38 hour week, a group-wide company policy. We have found that by working 38 hours a week (along with other incentives and under supervision) we achieve increased productivity (man hours to do a job) than under previous and more common policies. Quite simply, the workers now work harder (and a little smarter) than they did before. Does this tell you anything?
My challenge was to the stereotype of the super hard-working Chinese worker. And, by that I mean, that when they work, they work much harder than their overseas counterparts, not just longer hours. As I pointed out, if I were them, being paid bugger all to be at work these excessively long hours, I wouldn't put in my best effort either. Who would? Again, this is not a criticism.
And what Matt Cardinal said was absolutely true. The main reason we are here is for the domestic market. The Chinese mining industry dwarfs the Australian by a large factor, regardless of common Australian arrogance as to how large our industry is. Too many Australians equate largest exporter with largest producer.
Currently, the amount we export from China is about the same as the amount we import into China. This is changing through a staged process under a technical transfer agreement. The amount of product we produce in China is much larger than what we now do back home, as we produce a large amount of machinery locally for this market. The profit margin on the same machinery built in China and Australia, for us, is about the same, as cost savings are passed onto the end users. However, we have the ability to increase capacity here very quickly. This is because we can throw a lot more people behind a job here, which we cannot do due to skills shortages in our industry back home.
I hope I have cleared some of that up for you, but I remain doubtful.
I can agree with most of what you've stated in you last post & think for the most parts of earlier discussions were mostly misunderstood. I have no problem with Matt C's statement about manufacturing in China have started to direct their focus on domestic market that might be true as I'm sure most of us have been hearing or reading on different news medium. Since overseas economy have seemingly been weakening in past few years and domestic consumption has been expanding in such a brisk pace that doing so would be the smart thing for businesses to do. Though if I'm not mistaking China is still exporting overwhelming more than importing & still quite a bit away from being on the short end of a trade deficit.
However I do think your use of North Korea as an example for superior worker productivity is very flawed. Honestly, I don't think any reasonable individual would want to be labelled as lazy and greedy in a state owned factory in North Korea under one of the world's most extreme Socialistic & dictatorial environment. A similar extreme example of that would be me pointing a gun at someone's head & telling them to be productive or else.
Peace & out.
I never used North Korea as as a shining light of worker productivity. It was used as an example of both high (compared to China) return on dollar investment and why using return on dollar investment was sometimes too simplistic. You supported my point in your answer.
Chinese workers, from my experience, are more productive than their North Korean counterparts. However, wages are, as you can imagine, pretty low in the DPRK and they have access to some very high quality materials at extremely low cost. ERW steel pipe is an example. That said, it doesn't make North Korea a particularly attractive place to do business, for most.
That said, I don't mind doing business up there, though getting board approval for same was quite challenging and it is my head on the block if it all goes pear shaped.
Hi Turtle - Thank you for your good input and I congratulate you on your staying power to keep with the good replies. Unfortunately I realised any reasonable debate was futile in the face of a blinkered view.
@Matt - It is from the Chinese Govt website showing the official number of public holidays. http://www.gov.cn/zwgk/2011-12/06/content_2012097.htm
@Toby - Can you share the website :)
If you check the article that you linked, Dominic, you'll notice that it says "Saturday and Sunday to work" after the New Year's Holiday. The official statistics are misleading, since people are expected to work on the Saturday before and the Sunday after the holiday. So, considering that the holiday starts on Sunday (already off) and ends on Saturday (already off), and employees are expected to work two days of their weekend, the actual number of days off is three, not seven. That goes for most of the "week off" holidays, and so a tally of them is fairly misleading.
I poked one of my eyes out with a chopstick on the way through...
Very interesting. I can say after living in Thailand that it would take someone 3 days just to get an email back from them. Important or not. Even if they lived around the corner.
One thing for sure. Chinese are not lazy in my opinion. And when it comes to getting something done (last minute emergency) they usually can.
TOBY! ..... share that website! please