China’s ‘Chunyun’ Spring Festival Travel Rush Begins, Part 01

Chunyun (春运), the world’s largest annual human migration, is underway with hundreds of millions of people traveling home across China for the new year. The reason why the Chunyun rush could happen in such “epic proportions” every year is because of a simple desire that has been passed down for generations among the Chinese, “to go home for the Spring Festival.” The period usually starts 15 days before the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for around 40 days. This year’s 40-day holiday travel period will see crowds occupying trains, cars and planes to make their way to see their loved ones.

There are several factors that are responsible for the heightened traffic load during the Chunyun period.

There has been a massive migration from rural to urban areas in search of better lives since the Chinese economic reforms. Places such as 北上广深 (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen) offer better employment and often, a more sought-after lifestyle. It is a long-held tradition for most Chinese people to reunite with their families during the Chinese New Year holiday. For many people, this is their only chance in a year to go home to see their families. No matter how painful the process might be, they are willing to take it on, for just one simple reason: go home.

Chinese education reforms have also increased the number of university students, many of them are often study outside their hometown, and they often need to travel back to their hometown for the Chinese New Year holiday. Finally, because the Spring Festival Period is one of the week-long holiday periods in China, many people choose to travel for pleasure around this time. The station was very busy, with passengers coming and going hastily all the time.

Upon the arrival of each subway train, swarms of passengers would rush into the railway station, carrying with them all sorts of luggage.

Here are some of the people sharing their Chunyun stories.

Carrie, a fashion designer

I was born in Yangjiang (阳江), Guangdong Provience. I first moved to Shenzhen with my parents in 1987, I was 4 years old then. I have little new year memories in Yangjiang. I normally stay in Shenzhen for the Chinese new year holiday,  and and my relatives would usually come here to visit me.  During the Chinese new year holiday period, Shenzhen seems quite empty because many people left to travel back to their hometown. My husband is from Costa Rica, for this upcoming Chinese new year holiday, I will travel to Costa Rica to visit his families.

Fish, a civil servant

My hometown is Heihe (黑河),  it’s in Heilongjiang province. I go back to my hometown once a year for the Chinese New Year holiday. I miss my home very much and looking forward to seeing my family members and friends again. There is no direct flight to Heihe from Shenzhen, I need to stop via Harbin, and it takes four hours to get to Harbin from Shenzhen, and an hour to get to Heihe from Harbin by flight. If I take the train back home, it would take much longer. It would take 36 hours to get to Harbin train station from Shenzhen, plus another 8 hours of train journey to Heihe.  The weather is freezing cold during the winter season in Heihe, the temperatures is 30 degrees below zero. Heihe is near the boarder of Russia, it was one of China’s early overseas trade port to Russia. Heihe people are forthright, pure and honest. There were not many people in Heihe during the qing dynasty, mainly manchua and mongolian people living there, later production and construction corps played an important role in the development of Heihe, the goals of the production and construction corps were to develop frontier regions, promote economic development, ensure social stability and ethnic harmony, and consolidate border defence. Nowadays the economy in North Eastern Region of China is sort of slowing down, many young people have chosen to come to China’s southern coastal areas in search of employment.

Duncan, a salesperson

I am from Sichuan province. I normally go back home during the Chinese spring festival. But this year I will travel to my girlfriend’s hometown first.  I normally go back to my hometown by train, we could have chosen to take the airplane, however the train ticket is cheaper than the air ticket, it cost only 400RMB per person. I am very excited of going home soon. I need to visit my family and other relative members one by one.  I love and miss my hometown a lot, people there are very diligent and pure in mind, it is not developed now but it’s changing every day with more buildings being built. I have been working in Shenzhen for 2 years. I think I will cry when I leave Shenzhen for home, actually I do not really want to come back, but I know here is my battle ground,  and I can make a better living working here and support my family members back home, because I want to give them a better life.

Jackie

I am from Wuhan, Hubei province. I go back to my hometown once a year for the Chinese New Year holiday. I normally travel back home by airplane, and it takes about one hour and a half to get there. The plane ticket costs about 1600RMB from Shenzhen to Wuhan, and it’s not that difficult to buy it even though during the Chinese holiday period. The weather in Shenzhen is warmer than in Wuhan.  I haven’t bought the plane ticket yet, because I just quited my job and haven’t got a new one.  I am not sure when I will go home because I am worried that my parents might have concern for me.

Long wu, an IT engineer

I am from Tianmen, Hubei province. I normally travel back home on Gaotie (高铁) for about 5 hours,  the Gaotie ticket costs about 550RMB, it would take me around 12 hours to get back home traveling on pukuai (普通列车). It’s kind of hard to get the train tickets during the Chinese New Year holiday period  and also other important festival such as Chinese national day. If you want to get the ticket, you need to buy it in advance or use kind of special software to help you purchase the ticket. The weather in my home is much more colder than in Shenzhen during the Chinese new year holiday period. It’s less fun in my hometown than in Shenzhen, I travel back home only to see my families and friends.

Mark, an IT engineer

I am from Dezhou, Shandong province. I normally travel back home by Gaotie (高铁), and it takes about 11 hours to get there. The ticket normally cost about 900RMB. I wouldn’t go back home for this year’s new year holiday, my parents are coming to Shenzhen to visit me. I look forward to seeing them very much.

Sam

I went to Guangzhou by train during the Spring Festival for the first time 35 years ago, I was studying in Jinan University then. It was an unforgettable experience. I started my train journey from Nanning and changed train in Hengyang, Hunan province. It was around 1500 kilometers. The train was called 普快 “pukuai”, it could run around 40 kilometers per hour and it got to stop at the railway stations along. You can imagine how hard the travel was. It was crowded in the cars. It was difficult to move from places to places. When you wanted to go to the toilet, you got to pass people along the way. Many passengers didn’t get tickets for seats, so they sat and slept on the ground of the train. There were no food serving on the train, and there were no water in the toilets. Before coming to the area of Hunan province, the train conductor told us not to open the window, for the passengers would get into the train from the window. However, there was a window wide open in one of the compartment carriage. When the train stopped, the passenger outside got a breakthrough and they all tried to get into the train through the window. I have never had this experience in my life. But nowadays, the railway system has improved greatly, it’s getting better and better as the year goes by.

By Philip Caruso

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