'The Greatest Human Migration'

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are gathering for the ultimate New Years celebration


| February 15, 2007


From birds to wildebeests and penguins to butterflies, people are fascinated by the various migrations creatures make across the earth. But humans have some pretty interesting migratory habits themselves. Most of us are familiar with the annual pilgrimage millions of Muslims make to pray before the Kaaba in Mecca. There's also the 100 million-strong flock of northern Europeans who head south to bask in the warmer climate of the Mediterranean. And, closer to home, the airways, railways, and highways of the US all feel a squeeze during the winter months -- when holiday treks dominate schedules and the sunnier locals of Arizona and Florida draw influxes of retirees from the chillier regions of the United States.

Yet these tremendous migrations pale in comparison to the volume of China's 40-day travel period that began February 3 for the Spring Festival. As Shanghai Daily reports, Chunyun, as this Spring movement is called, is regarded as the 'greatest human migration on the planet.' According to OhmyNews , China's ministry of transportation estimates a gross passenger volume of over 2.17 billion. (That's right, more than 2 billion -- a widely cited figure that far surpasses the country total population.) Migrants from neighboring countries as well as those stretched across the globe are en route to their home provinces to join family members for the peak of the lunar New Years holiday, which falls on February 18 this year.

This travel phenomenon, primarily encompassing students and migrants, began in full in 1984 after the Chinese government loosened migration restrictions, thus allowing peasants to head to the cities for work. These urban centers are now home to 150 million peasant migrants, most of whom jump at the rare opportunity to visit their left-behind loved ones each year come Chunyun.

Spring Festival travel is also grueling, with hundreds of millions of travelers vying for tickets that fall far short of the impossible number of customers. The ticket winners are often those who have waited for days at a train or bus station. China Daily.com reports that the railways incur a heavy burden, with the ministry estimating that 156 million people will travel by train during this period.



As detailed by the Chinese Ministry of Culture's ChinaCulture.org, the Spring Festival includes the eating of porridge during the Laba Festival, as well as what's known as Little New Year, which falls a week before the true new year. During the latter holiday, also called the Festival of the Kitchen God, families prepare their homes for the New Year. The climax of the Spring Festival brings activities that last for three to five days leading up to the New Year, with an elaborate New Years eve dinner with family and friends. On the day of the new year, a procession bearing lanterns and offerings to deities is accompanied by fire crackers. The Festival of Lanterns concludes the holiday, signaling that a return home is near and those making up the great migration must reverse course back to their daily lives.

Go there >> Migrants Scramble for Holiday Travel














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