Chinese hit the bumpy road home for Lunar New Year, signifying the beginning of the largest annual human migration

January 22, 2011Jing Gao2 Comments, , , , , , , , , , ,

Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important holiday to Chinese people. It is based on Chinese lunar calendar and falls on different dates in the western calendar each year. The first date of the Year of Rabbit, the majority of which overlaps with 2011, is on February 3, 2011. As is the long-held tradition, Chinese people travel home for reunion with their extended families, and return to work and study when the holiday is over. Given the size of Chinese population and the degree to which China’s economic gravitational pull of coastal metropolitan regions has reshaped the population distribution, the scale of the human migration during the Lunar New Year period, which 15 days before the Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for around 40 days owing to different holiday schedules of schools and employees, is unparalleled in the world each year.

Airfares are prohibitively high to Chinese migrant workers who go from rural to urban areas for job opportunities and to the ordinary working class, therefore, the railway and bus are the major means of transportation. According to the official statistics, the number of passenger journeys during Chunyun, or the Spring Festival travel season, will exceed 2.85 billion. A series of winter storms that hit many parts of the country exacerbate the situation that its transport system is faced with.

Chinese Migrant worker gets tickets after standing in chilly winds for 13 hours

Ticket shortage is a pain in the neck for most Chinese who depend on the railway. Because train tickets sold in China do not require I.D., scalpers in cahoots with corrupted workers inside the railway system always manage to pick up tickets in great numbers minutes after they go on sale, and then deal them out in and around the railway station at highly inflated prices. Therefore, people have to line up for tickets much earlier than the sales of tickets on a certain day officially begin.

For many of those who have got seats, they have to sit on the train for more than a day. Yet they are still luckier than those who have got standing tickets when seats are sold out, who have no seats and have to find just enough space for themselves on the aisle, at the vestibule, or even inside the restroom. On an overnight train crawling with passengers, many have to wear adult diapers since elbowing their way to the restroom is almost impossible.


China proclaims that Chinese people have stood up and upright and bid farewell to the old days when they were enslaved or exploited. But people still have to bow down for tickets.


At 10 p.m. on January 14, migrant workers in Ningbo, Zhejiang came to a train ticket agency and lined up for tickets. The tickets they wanted to buy will not be sold until 1 a.m. the next day. (Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi)


January 15. Wang Xiaoyu, a year-and-a-half-old girl from Fuyang, Anhui, lined up for train tickets with her mother (left) in front of a ticket agency in Ningbo, Zhejiang. Her mother wrapped her in a poncho. (Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi)


On January 17, cold wave hit Hangzhou. Temperature dropped to -4℃. Mr. Mou and his fellow worker, both from Changde, Hunan, wrapped themselves in blankets while lining up for train tickets. They arrived at the ticket booth at 6 p.m. the day before yesterday and have been lining for two days.


On January 18, many passengers braved the snowstorm and lined up in front of a ticket office set up on the playground inside the sports center of Suzhou, Jiangsu for train tickets.  (Xinhua/Zhu Guiyin)


January 18. Passengers were ready for boarding in the waiting lounge at the train station in Yinchuan, Ningxia in China’s northwest. (Xinhua/Wang Peng)


Collage of pictures of passengers resting in the waiting lounge at the train station in Jinan, Shandong on January 18.  (Xinhua/Zhao Xiaoming)


January 18. A migrant worker was carrying loads on a pole and his child on his back while hurrying onto his train at the station in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. (Xinhua/Han Chuanhao)


January 18. A migrant worker was carrying his baggage over his head before boarding onto No. K1271 train departing from Hangzhou, Zhejiang westward for Chengdu, Sichuan. (Xinhua/Han Chuanhao)


January 18. A 13-year-old-boy looked into a train car while carrying a heavy load. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)


January 18. A child on a train for Xi’an, Shaanxi was waving his hand to the outside. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)


January 18. The police from Yinchuan’s public security office played the saxophone on the train. (Xinhua/Wang Peng)


January 18. Mr. Bai, who works in Ningbo, saw his parents off at the train station. His parents, who were leaving for their hometown in Gansu Province, wrote “Take care” with the steam on the window. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)


January 19. Chen Weiwei, a migrant worker from Shangqiu, Henan, lined for train tickets at a train station in Jinhua, Zhejiang from 10 p.m. the previous night, and was the third in the line. When the sale of tickets of trains ten days later began at noon, he was told they were all sold out. Chen demanded explanation on the train station’s part by streaking, but the deputy director of the train station calmly texted message on his phone and did not bother to even look at him.


January 19, migrant workers going home walked on No. 319 National Highway with their baggage. Because of ice on the road caused by cold snaps, services of long distance buses between Qianjiang and Pengshui, two counties administered by Chongqing, were suspended. Migrant workers who couldn’t wait to go home braved the chilly winds and hit the snow-covered road on foot. (Xinhua/Chen Cheng)


A little girl carries her little brother on her back at a train station.


Migrant workers with their infant in a basket waited in Shanghai Train Station.


Many migrant workers have to wait in lines for days and even fight and argue to get a standing ticket, or merely a pass onto the train without any seat, whereas the first-class lounge on the bullet train between Chengdu and Shanghai is luxurious and roomy, and charges as much as 2,330 yuan (US$350). 70% of respondents of an online survey at Sina, China’s largest news portal site, said it is not worthwhile or necessary.


At a train station, a migrant worker and her baby child wait for their train while having instant noodles as a meal.


Inside a train station.

Related articles:

2 comments to “Chinese hit the bumpy road home for Lunar New Year, signifying the beginning of the largest annual human migration”

  1. King Tubby | January 23, 2011 | Permalink Reply

    Great photos which provide a story of massive proportions..

  2. AJ | October 11, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    So many people in China :/

Leave a Reply