China's annual orgy of autumn travel officially came to a close yesterday as Golden Week ended and the country prepared to return to work. Accounts of tourism nightmares have poured in from almost all provinces, leading to a national discussion concerning the efficacy and necessity of giving huge portions of China's population time off at the same time.
Major government-run news agencies, including Xinhua and China Daily, have published articles questioning whether Golden Week should continue as it is currently conducted. Both reports suggest the fourteen year-old holiday schedule should be seriously overhauled. The most common proposal is to replace the National Day vacation period with a paid leave system that would stagger tourism over the entire year.
The current structure of China's National Day holiday was instituted in 1999 as part of festivities held to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. As the country's economy has grown and disposable incomes have risen, the holiday has developed into something of a circus.
Tourist numbers during the week-long vacation have climbed every year since 1999. So too have the occurrence of stories describing travel meltdowns and accidents, absurdly overloaded travel spots and increased crime during Golden Week. Xinhua reporters went so far as to compare these problems to a medical syndrome in need of a cure.
The paid vacation arrangement would presumably spread holiday time for employees of the government and state-owned companies equally over 12 months instead of concentrating them all into a single week. Such an initiative may help to alleviate many of the current inconveniences and has apparently already been granted government approval. According to the China Daily report:
February  saw the State Council, China's cabinet, announce a new program promoting domestic tourism. It says that a paid annual leave system will have been basically implemented by 2020, meaning all employers will be encouraged to subscribe to it by this point.
Small travel changes were instituted by the government in the run-up to Golden Week this year, but nothing approaching a systematic restructuring of the holiday. It was the first time tourist destinations around the country were required to close their gates after reaching predetermined capacity numbers. Although this policy was strictly enforced in some places, Beijing's Forbidden City tried to accommodate double the amount of tourists it was authorized to — a reported 175,000 people in a single day.
Horror stories were not limited to China's capital and their prevalence has led to the aforementioned discussion of an alternate vacation system. An estimated 65 million people crammed onto trains during the holiday — a record for a single week — prompting the addition of more trains and tightening already hectic rail schedules.
When people did reach their destinations, many of them found enormous crowds already on hand. More than 10,000 tourists were stranded for hours in Sichuan's Jiuzhaigou National Park after the daily maximum of 40,000 people were allowed into the park in under an hour.
In Yunnan, when Golden Week traffic was at its peak, the normally two-and-a-half hour drive from Lijiang to Dali reportedly took ten hours. However, it was not always sheer numbers of people that ruined vacations, as tour operators in Zhongdian charged 380 yuan per person for "authentic Tibetan meals". Those unwilling to pay were left on the side of the road.