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Chunyun, The Largest Human Migration In The World, Has Begun

Chūnyùn (春运), China’s Spring Festival travel season, where the country sees over 2 billion journeys within a 40 day period, has begun. Starting 15 days before the lunar new year, people all around China rush home to be with their families for the holiday. As the people of this country have now been scattered all [...]

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Chūnyùn (春运), China’s Spring Festival travel season, where the country sees over 2 billion journeys within a 40 day period, has begun. Starting 15 days before the lunar new year, people all around China rush home to be with their families for the holiday. As the people of this country have now been scattered all over the map in the pursuit of work and education, this means that hundreds of millions of people are traveling at the same time. This is the largest annual human migration in the world.

Chunyun 2013, will officially goes from January 26 to March 6, and is projected to be the largest in history.

I’ve experienced three consecutive Chunyun periods from 2005 to 2007, and, perhaps unfortunately, I know this holiday well. The train stations are packed with a solid mass of humanity, and the trains themselves are stuffed full of what amounts to human livestock. Not only are all the seats taken but there are people packed in the aisles and in the spaces between cars. Traveling during this holiday gives the term “riding steerage” a far too literal meaning. The buses are little better.

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“Our holiday season is divided up, and we take our vacations when we want to,” I explained to a Chinese friend who recently asked me about vacations in the USA. “If everybody in the United States took their vacation at the same time the country would fall apart.”

That’s not so in China. This is a country that has an organization structure and public transportation system that allows for 2 billion trips in 40 days without crumbling into chaos.

“The problem with working in China is that everybody has the same vacation,” an English teacher friend of mine recently complained. He was debating if it would be worth fighting through throngs and crowds just to travel somewhere that’s going to to be equally as packed with people. I couldn’t offer any advice, I’d been there too many times to want to go there again, but I do know that traveling during this time is a very unique experience.

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Novelty and curiosity is often enough to curb even the biggest of annoyances in travel, and I recommend any person who has never been to China during the spring festival period to take a long distance train trip during this time, as it’s one of the extreme events that make up the broader pattern of the human experience.

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If you were to collect a series of snippets to show a procession of the most extreme, incredible, and strange events that human culture has created throughout its history, China’s Chunyun would surely be one of them. To be packed within a mass of a hundred thousand people with suitcases, bundles, and bags moving in a common direction is to be a part of something larger than yourself that, though not at all wonderful, is absolutely incredible.

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Photos from 天眼摄郎 blog on Sohu.

Filed under: China, Uncategorized

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3548 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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