What’s the Deal With Spring Migration

01_15_WTDWAfter finishing the universal holiday season, here comes Chinese holiday spirit. For some, it’s a pretty joyful time with family, if, that is, they are lucky enough to get tickets home. The world’s biggest travel rush, the so called chunyun, has been described as the world’s largest annual migration by BBC News. It usually kicks off 15 days before the Chinese New Year and lasts about 40 days. Passenger journeys can exceed the population of China, hitting over 3.4 billion in 2013. Public transit, especially long-distance buses and rail, are literally crammed with people in any city at any time. Go home, spend the CNY and then returning is more important than anything else at this time of the year.

The term chunyun was created by People’s Daily in 1980. It means Spring Festival transportation, but playful netizens have given it another definition—Spring Festival games (yun is a homophone for games). The Chinese Ministry of Railways (CMR) is considered the organizer, and athletes are delegations of students, migrant workers and family visitors. Sport events include: standing in queue to buy tickets, waiting for trains/buses, bearing weight and the triathlon of walking swiftly, bearing weight and standing for X hours. Winning the top 3 spots every year are; No.1, the CMR; No.2, transit station staff (they usually get first choice for tickets); and No.3, scalpers.

Rail is still the preferred form of transportation for long-distance budget travelers and new policies come out of the CMR every year, designed to expedite easier ticket purchasing. From requiring “real name and ID,” aiming to crackdown scalpers, to increasing the surcharge for ticket exchange, hoping for better usage of resources, chunyun train tickets are still hard to obtain. This year, the CMR announced tickets presales 60 days in advance, 40 days earlier than normal. On December 8, people bought train tickets departing on February 4, the first day of chunyun. Tickets from high demand destinations like Hunan and Sichuan were gone in minutes.

Although more and more people are choosing to stay, the traditional mindset of family reunions for CNY still influences a high percentage. A report done by people.com.cn in 2013 showed that 67 percent of respondents choose to go home, and 80 percent of them depart from big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.