China’s New Year’s celebration

“Pigs for luck”

On 5 February, 2019, millions of people celebrated the year of the pig in China and East Asia with colourful festivities. The official public holiday and the traditional holiday period that follows it are considered the most important events of the year. For this reason, the Chinese “new year” affects the job market, productivity and logistics in the Middle Kingdom – it’s basically a Chinese version of a “shutdown”.

The new year’s date is governed by the Chinese lunar calendar and always takes place between January 21 and February 20. Traditionally, the celebration starts the night before (“Chuxi”). This is followed by the so-called “reunion dinner” on New Year’s Day (“Chuyi”). On the 15th day of the first lunar month and thus the last day of the spring celebration (which is also what this is called), the large-scale lantern fest (“Yuanxiao”) is held.

Millions travel

The spring celebration is highly significant not just because of the traditional festivities. The Chinese also traditionally travel back to their home villages, which causes the largest migration process in the world year after year. 200 million migrant workers alone return to their homes from the economic centers. The Chinese government expects 2.98 million journeys related to the holiday. According to estimates, a total of 58.3 million people will fly home and 356 million will travel home by train.

During that time, railway companies and airlines are faced with a mammoth logistical task where complications are pretty much the order of the day. The trains are filled to the brim, endless lines form at ticket counters and the black market for tickets booms. Aside from that, China, the second largest national economy in the world, basically stands still. Authorities, schools, universities, factories, offices and construction sites stay closed from the time of the New Year’s celebration to the seventh day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar (about 23 days).

When everything stands still

Employers of migrant workers have to deal with even longer production downtimes. Since it is difficult to get plane, train and bus tickets directly before and after the holidays, 100 million migrant workers already leave their construction sites and factories weeks before the celebration. It is uncertain when they will return to their jobs, if ever. Regular employees are officially granted ten days off a year and must apply for additional leave. However, migrant workers who usually don’t have any work contracts also have no regulated leave. They decide themselves when they come and go, which means they can stay away from work for many weeks.

In the last 20 years, a high fluctuation could be noticed around the time of the spring celebration in China. These days, many employers make more efforts to retain their employees. They worry that many of their workers won’t return after the holidays and this could have dire consequences, as employees are in increasing shortage.

If sales managers are asked about their business outlooks in January, they therefore usually name low figures. In mid-March at the latest, when most of the migrant workers have – hopefully – returned, employers generally show much more confidence again.

 

Patience is the order of the day

For customers and trading partners around the entire world, the Chinese New Year also has considerable effects, since it entails longer waiting, production and offer times. As a rule, virtually nothing happens for at least two weeks. The later your order was received before the celebration, the later it is absorbed into the restarted production process.

If anything, the export economy can see some benefits – fruit farmers, for example, regularly count on good business with China during this time, since large quantities of fruit such as oranges are essential to every New Year’s celebration.

In any case, in the next few weeks it’s appropriate to wish your Chinese business partners, friends and acquaintances a happy new year, one that has especially lucky prospects with the sign of the pig. Then one can say “xīnnián kuàilè” – 新年快乐 – which is simply pronounced "sshin-nyen kwhy-luh”. We also offer our best wishes.