October 1 means National Day in China, commemorating the founding in 1949 of the People's Republic. Funnily enough, as trenchant communists spend a quiet few moments reflecting on Party glories past and present, many other Chinese are setting off on that most bourgeois and capitalist of treats, a shopping spree, or even a shopping holiday.
Since 2000 the start of October has marked the beginning of one of China's twice-yearly Golden Weeks, centrally-blessed vacations primarily intended to help expand the domestic tourism market and up the national standard of living, while also enabling people to make long-distance family visits. Each Golden Week now produces over half a billion travellers. The China National Tourism Administration estimated that after just four days of the latest such week, 415 million citizens had travelled, spending a total of CNY 339.7bn (USD 50.7bn) within China.
Though the gripes about the humongous crowds, ram-packed trains and terribly expensive air tickets may never go away, China's government will hope the big investments poured into infrastructure and services is moving the country away from reliance on heavy and light industry towards a more consumer-driven economy with a swelling middle class.
For anecdotal evidence of how the evolution towards the desired mighty middle class is going, observers look at the growing numbers of Chinese able to afford a Golden Week retail trip to Japan along with their sometimes pulsating purchasing power. The holiday spending of Chinese tourists in Japan is actually so impressive that it often leaves the Japanese breathless.
One insight from the Japan National Tourism Organisation shows how while young female Chinese are more and more drawn to Japanese cosmetics, sales of Japanese electronic goods to the Chinese are on the wane with the quality of products made back home improving. “Chinese consumers are starting to buy electronic goods domestically,” said Yoko Hayano, a senior consultant at JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co. in Tokyo. The stronger yen and higher customs levies faced by the tourists may be reinforcing this trend.