Case study: Leisure in China

By Matt Burdett, 1 November 2017

On this page, we look at the recent growth in the income and leisure time for people in China, and assess the impact this has had on participation in sport and tourism in the world’s most populous country.

  • Chongqing, China: Internet based gaming and other online activities are now more popular than physical sports in China.

Introducing leisure in China

China is experiencing an increase in leisure time and participation in sport and tourism. This is partly the result of a growing economy, which gives individuals and the government more disposable income to spend on sports and tourism. The income per capita is shown in the graph below (Gapminder, 2017).

At the same time as increasing income, Chinese people are also having more leisure time than before. In 1995, the two-day weekend was introduced for many people and in 1999 the Chinese government introduced a policy of giving all workers three weeks off per year at set times (May Day, Spring Festival and National Day). This policy was updated in 2008 to give two full-week holidays and five three-day holidays per year (Tu, 2010).

This resulted in the so-called “Golden Week”, such as around National Day on 1st October, with virtually the entire country taking the week off and many of China’s migrant workers returning to their family homes in the central and western provinces. There are problems associated with this growth, including transport chaos and very high prices for hotels and travel. However, destinations such as Hong Kong experience an increase in tourism and commercial activity as Chinese people spend their hard earned money.

What do Chinese people do with all this free time? The most popular activity is to travel to nearby destinations, followed by spending time on the internet, and finally go to the movies. 39% of Chinese people report movie-going as a favourite pastime, with a very fast rate of growth for cinema tickets of 40% from 2015 to 2016 (Daxue Consulting, 2016).


China has been gaining ground in its sporting achievements as shown by summer Olympic medals won, in the graph below (Laurent, 2017).

Despite a strong focus on national pride in elite sporting competitions, historically China has not been considered a sporting nation. This has begun to change; recent growth is not just amongst elite athletes. For example, visits to ski regions were 5.5 million in 2009, but by 2016 had reached 15.1 million, and Beijing is the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics which is anticipated to be a major spectator event (Klingelhöfer, 2017). Similar growth is happening in many sporting sectors, such as football. The infographic below shows the variety of sports that interest people in China (State Council, 2015).

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 4.15.42 PM.png

This is partly the result of the government’s policy on fitness. After the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008, the State Council made ‘Sports for All Day’ annually on 8th August. In 2016 it was announced the National Fitness Plan to 2020 would follow from the 12th National Plan for 2011-2015, which resulted in an increase in medium intensity exercise participation from 28.2% of the population in 2007 to 33.9% by 2014 (Xiaochen, 2015).

The 2016-2020 Five Year Plan includes 1.8 square meters per person to be allocated for sports within 15 minutes of people’s homes (Liddle, 2016). The government also invested in sports directly in 2015 by providing around US$130 million to over 1200 sports venues to reduce or eliminate fees (Xiaochen, 2015). The Ministry of Education also planned in 2015 to encourage the growth of football by identifying 20000 schools for promotional activities, rising to 50,000 by 2025 (Xua, Gaob, and Zhao, 2016).

This increase in participation is worth money to the country. The value of sports is aimed to be around US$772 billion by 2025. This is around 1% of GDP compared to 0.63% in 2013 (Xiaochen, 2015).


Chinese tourism has similarly grown. The table below shows the spending in US dollars on international tourism by citizens of selected countries, showing China has increased consistently and is now the top spender in the world (Jian-jun and Nas, 2014).

It is not just that Chinese people are becoming wealthier and spending more; the number of people travelling abroad is also increasing, as shown in the table below (Jian-jun and Nas, 2014).

The graph below shows more up-to-date figures (World Travel Online, 2017). (The % figure is the increase on the previous year.)

  • Source: World Online Travel, 2017. Chinese Outbound Tourism Statistics in 2016: 122 Million Chinese Tourists Make Outbound Trips, Spend $109.8 Billion. Accessed 1st November 2017.

However, this is only part of the story. In all of these years, over half of the visits ended in Greater China – including Hong Kong and Macau which have their own immigration status under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ approach, with the rest of the country being termed ‘Mainland China’. In 2016, for the first time, 51.2% of all trips by mainlanders went outside of Greater China (Arlt, 2017). All regions registered an increasing in tourism, but the greater numbers heading to Europe and North America rather than Asia suggests that people are more adventurous and, through media coverage, are more aware of less traditional destinations. Iceland, Poland and Georgia increased by more than 40% while Nepal increased by 56%.


Arlt, W. G., 2017. Chinese Tourists Look For New Destinations In 2016 Accessed 1st November 2017.

Daxue Consulting, 2016. Chinese Leisure Activities: Three New Market trends Accessed 3rd November 2017.

Gapminder, 2017. Income Per Person in China 1945-2015.

Jian-jun, M. and Nas, R.F., 2014. Profile of Chinese Outbound Tourists: Characteristics and Expenditures. American Journal of Tourism Management, 3(1), pp.17-31. Accessed 1st November 2017.

Klingelhöfer, C. 2017. These are the Most Popular Sports in China. Accessed 1st November 2017.

Laurent, J, 2017. Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Accessed 1st November 2017.

Liddle, J. 2016. China’s New National Fitness Plan and Opportunities in the Sports Industry. Accessed 1st November 2017.

State Council [of the People’s Republic of China], 2015. Sports participation soars in China Accessed 1st November 2017.

Tu, Y. 2010. Chinese Leisure Life: the two-day weekend revolution. Accessed 3rd November 2017.

World Online Travel, 2017. Chinese Outbound Tourism Statistics in 2016: 122 Million Chinese Tourists Make Outbound Trips, Spend $109.8 Billion. Accessed 1st November 2017.

Xiaochen, S. 2015. Chinese embrace exercise as lifestyle choice. Accessed 1st November 2017.

Xu, Gao, Zhao, 2016. National football promotion in China: Opportunities and challenges in public health[J]. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 2016, 5(2): 250-251. Accessed 1st November 2017.

Case study: China and Leisure: Learning activities


  1. Describe the changes taking place in the leisure preferences of people in China. [3]
  2. Suggest why sports are being taken up in record numbers. [4]
  3. Suggest why tourism is increasing. [4]
  4. Use the sources to identify the range of countries that people travel to from China. Suggest why these countries are the most popular. [4]

Other tasks

Using the table below, create a graph comparing the growth in tourism expenditure for China and two other selected countries. Annotate the graph to suggest why China’s increase in expenditure has been so much larger than that of other countries.

© Matthew Burdett, 2018. All rights reserved.

All secondary material on this site is clearly referenced and may be subject to copyright restrictions by the original authors. All original material on this page is subject to copyright.