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Chinese New Year and other reasons why you’ll be late

by David Dayton in 'Silk Road International'

If you’re starting projects this month chances are, unless you’ve already had very explicit conversations about delivery dates with your supplier, you may be shocked when your supplier (and everyone in his factory) goes on vacation in Jan and you’re left waiting around for two weeks for an update on production status.

There are two months each year that are horrible to schedule around—the month before and the month after Chinese New Year. (I guess the month of Chinese New Year would be a third, but we’ve learned just not to schedule anything this entire month so I’m not counting it.) This year, the official Chinese New Year is the 23rd of January, but the traditional family-gathering days start a few days before that. And with millions of people heading for home from the east coast provinces the holiday can start as early as a week before the actual day since people can’t get seats on planes, trains or buses back home.

If you’re planning on anything getting done after the 15th of January you’re asking for trouble.

The Holiday can last anywhere from 5 days (officially) to two weeks for some. Again, add in the difficulty workers face getting a train back to work and the vacation can stretch into February. While all that time off can be a problem, the biggest problem is the fact that many workers will stay home as long as they can afford to. And when they do come back many do not return to their same factory—at least they’ll spend a few days looking at other options before making a commitment.

All of this means a few important things for foreign buyers.

1. On Dec 1st you may place an order that usually takes 30 days only to find that it won’t ship until Feb 1st—a full 30 days later than you expected.

The month of December is SUPER busy for most factories. They are taking orders like usual but all along knowing that they’ll not be able to finish many since their workforce slowly fades away as CNY gets closer. Over booking, under capacity, and the inability to schedule maintenance or raw materials (since their sub-suppliers and service people have the same labor issues) is typical at factories this time of year.

2. Of course this means that the month of January, the actual holiday month, can be a complete wash. From the 20th to the 29th there will be nothing done. Sure factories will be open for 15 days of this month, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be getting much done.

Expats and overseas Chinese are also taking advantage of this too. These are the folks with vacation and sick days built into their packages—what better time to use them then the days before and after the official holiday when nothing is happening anyway?!

3. As bad as that can seem to buyers trying to order and take delivery on a deadline, February can be even worse. Why? Because it’s the great unknown. No one knows who is coming back or when/if they’ll actually be back. Some years there is a real glut of workers and factories start back up on time and are full quickly. The last few years though, there have been job vacancies at many factories stretching into March!

The keys to Chinese New Year are patience and flexibility. There are a few things that your supplier honestly can’t control—a lack of labor around CNY is one of them. So you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches over the next 90 days.

  • Don’t place time-sensitive orders in December or January.
  • Don’t change existing orders or ask for rush service during this time of year.
  • Plan ahead—it’s not like Chinese New Year is a surprise, you can plan for it each year.
  • Don’t get mad at your supplier when they tell you that production times are double what they were if the same project had been started in November. Likely, he’s pissed too, but he knows he can’t do anything about it (and he thinks you’re a jerk for not understanding that too).
  • If it sounds too good to be true (“Yes, we think we can just fit this in before the holiday starts”) it probably is. Only you’ll not find out about the soon-to-be missed delivery date until mid January when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Most importantly, for 1.5 billion people this is the most important holiday (and also the only holiday, for some) of each year. No matter your order/emergency, it’s not as important to them as their time off with family that they haven’t seen since last Chinese New Year.


David Dayton is the owner of Silk Road International and currently lives full-time in Shenzhen, China. He speaks English, Thai and Mandarin and has worked in Asia for more than 15 years. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at www.silkroadintl.net

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