Today marks the 65th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Known as “National Day,” the commemoration kicks off one of two so-called “Golden Weeks,” which were implemented by the Chinese government in 1999 as a way to promote domestic tourism. (The other Golden Week follows Chinese New Year and typically falls during January or February, in accordance with the lunar calendar.) While China is surely not unique in celebrating its founding—America’s Fourth of July and France’s Bastille Day rank among the world’s best-known birthday parties—few countries take an entire, government-sanctioned week off to do so. This year’s festival comes at an especially fraught time for China—as unprecedented pro-democracy protests spread in Hong Kong, a “special administration region” (SAR) of the mainland since July 1997.
The week-long holiday is expected to produce an additional 270 billion yuan in consumer spending—nearly $44 billion, or roughly half of Bill Gates’s net worth (an estimate that may prove high if, as predicted, Chinese tourists avoid restive Hong Kong, normally a top destination). In the past two years, moreover, retail sales during the holiday season have grown by an average of 16 percent, with more than 600 million people traveling by air, road, or waterway during the 2013 holiday alone. By comparison, U.S. residents took 1.6 billion trips for leisure across the 52 weeks of 2013, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association.