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All you need to know about 劳动节 - Labour Day

May.01, 2022

 Labour Day


Labour Day - 劳动节 Láodòng jié, also known as International Workers' Day and often referred to as May Day, is a celebration of all the working classes and their achievements. It occurs every year on May 1st. Nowadays, It's celebrated in over 80 countries worldwide.


In this article, let's talk about everything you need to know about Labour Day (劳动节/Láodòng jié) in China!


Labour Day


The origin of International Labour Day


In the 19th century, to maximize profits, workers in the US were forced to work 14 to 18 hours a day.

The heavy oppression stirred up great anger among the workers. In order to fight for basic survival conditions, workers united and fought against business owners through a strike movement. The strike slogan was the demand for the "three-eight system".


 Labour Day

"three-eight system"


On May 1st in 1886, strike movements broke out throughout the United States to force the business owners to implement the "eight-hour workday". In Chicago alone, 45,000 workers participated in the strike, paralyzing the major industrial sectors of the United States. The U.S. government finally announced the implementation of the "eight-hour workday" a month later, showing that the workers' movement achieved an initial victory.


To commemorate the strike movement of American workers, May 1st every year was designated as International Labour Day, the common holiday of labourers all over the world.

Labour Day


Labour Day in China


China is one of the countries that celebrates Labour Day on May 1st, since the date is "5/1", Chinese people also call Labour Day as "五一节/Wǔyī Jié" and sometimes just simply as "五一/Wǔyī".


Labour Day was introduced into China in 1918, along with the rising of working class in the country. On May 1st in 1920, workers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other industrial cities held a huge march to appeal for "three-eight system" and chanted slogans such as "Long live labour/劳工万岁" and "Long live the Chinese industrial world/中华工界万岁".


 Labour Day


Meanwhile, more and more progressive thoughts such as "Labor is sacred/劳工神圣" emerged. Articles such as "History of the May Day Movement" and "The Problem of Hunan Women Workers in Shanghai Hou Sheng Yarn Factory" were published spreading in the whole country.

All this happened on May 1st of 1920. It was the first time that Chinese people celebrated Labour Day.


After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Labour Day was officially designated as a national holiday and has been celebrated since then.

Labour Day


996, the old dilemma in our times


May 1st was initially set for working class to celebrate their victory of the strike. However, to fight for work life balance, every generation has their mission. In China at this time, the problem is called 996.

996 is a popular work schedule practiced by a number of Chinese IT companies such as Byte Dance, Tencent and Huawei etc. In recent years, it's very common for many employees in that industry to work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days per week. 996 is a trending topic in Chinese society over last few years.

I bring up this topic here as it's ironic to see that workers were fighting for "three-eight system" 1880s and now in 2020s we are still troubled by the same issue.


 Labour Day


What's interesting to mention here is, in 2019, Chinese tech tycoon Jack Ma defended the culture of 996, calling it a "blessing". He also argued that China's economy was "very likely to lose vitality and impetus" if the system wasn't there. His view was backed by Richard Liu, the CEO of another Chinese giant e-commerce company JD, who called people against "996" as "slackers".


Different from 1880s, in China's IT industry of 2020s, these arguments made by the company's founders as well as the self-made billionaires are partly convincing to many young employees. They themselves have chosen to sacrifice their life quality in pursuit of higher income and a consequent class transition.


In 2021, with more and more critics stating that the 996 working hour system is a violation of Chinese law and have called it "modern slavery", 996 was deemed illegal by China's Supreme People's Court. But in reality, it's still a long way for many young employees in this competitive society to achieve an ideal work life balance.

Labour Day


A Chinese phrase you must know for 五一


After living in China for a while, you will definitely be impressed by all kinds of service that you can get easily. This convenience is built by millions of people's extreme hard work.

In Chinese, we have a special expression to thank people for their help or hard work. It's:

辛苦了!
Xīnkǔ le!
It literally means "to go through trouble". In other words, "you've worked hard".

On this special day, let's learn to say "辛苦了/xīnkǔle" to show your appreciation to all the people who have worked to help you, especially the 阿姨/āyí who helps you cleaning your house and 师傅/shīfu who helps you to fix the floor!

大家辛苦了!劳动节快乐!
Dàjiā xīnkǔ le! Láodòng jié kuàilè!
Thanks for your hard work, everyone! Happy Labour Day!

I hope this article will help you know more about Labour Day in a Chinese context and may the power and spirits of Labour Day be always with you!

Have a great holiday!
May Shanghai people resume normal life every soon!


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