Only in China: The annual Spring Festival mass migration 春运

Only in China: The annual Spring Festival mass migration 春运

This year is one of the first year’s I will not be able to spend Chinese New Year with my Chinese family. I am upset, but there is one thought that makes me feel a bit relieved: I don’t have to travel during this year’s 40-day holiday travel period.

This year Chunyun 春运 (literally “Spring Festival Travel”) begins January the 16th. Chinese New Year, which falls on January the 31st this year, is one of the most important festivals and everyone wants to get home on time to celebrate with their loved ones. Now imagine 1.3 billion people starting to move. No wonder, they call this time the world’s biggest annual migration of people.

According to Xinhua about 3.62 billion passenger trips will be made this year, which is 200 million more than last year. The numbers are just unimaginable. says:

The vast majority will hit the roads, often riding on China’s crowded long-distance buses. Road transport will make up 3.2 billion trips, up 5.8 percent over last year, and some 80 million a day. Airlines, too, will be weighed down with record numbers of holiday sojourners, with 42 million flights expected over the festive season, up 10 percent from 2013. Finally, passengers will make 258 million trips by train, up about 8 percent over last year.

To just get an impression of the masses of people travelling in China during the Spring Festival holidays you should check out these photos on People’s Daily.

So far I have just taken the train and long-distance buses to get home to my Chinese in-laws. Both were horrific. To get a train ticket I had to line up for hours. I remember once I was so unlucky (and naïve), I just got a standing ticket. It was after Chinese New Year, but back then I didn’t know (or just ignored it) that Chinese New Year is a period of 15 days, and the travel rush lasts even longer… Standing for 17 hours is no fun. But if I look back, I was not actually standing but lifted up by the crowd on the train. It was really icky. People smoking, spitting and no space to just twist your legs out of that awkward position you have been in since several hours. Never again.

Hard Sleeper: You have six beds in one compartment and no door.

Hard Sleeper: You have six beds in one compartment and no door.

Now, being all wise, I usually try to get a train ticket. With the new official train ticket booking website it is way easier to get one. Even though it crashes at times during chunyun, but at least it saves you from queuing overnight in cold winter. If you manage, get a soft sleeper (or hard sleeper) ticket. That makes the journey way more comfortable.

You could also get a sleeping coach (a bus with beds inside). It’s more or less the same as a train. I have taken a few but recently they had so many accidents. Drivers falling asleep, driving too fast or too risky. For next year I will better take the train again.


I have read that Guangdong province gives free gas to people who take the motorbike to get home. And not just that;

Sleeping coach. Actually pretty compfy.

Sleeping coach. Actually pretty compfy.

they also get a little present at the gas station: biscuits, cake, instant noodles, bottled water, medicine and a raincoat. Pretty nice, right?

But no matter how you travel, by bike, by car, by bus, by train or by plane, it will be crowded. There is no survival strategy. Just take a deep breath, close your eyes and keep moving with the flow of people. When you arrive at your destination the happy faces of your family will be reward enough. All the misery will be forgotten. At least, until you have to go back to where you work…

This year I don’t have to worry. My hubby is already home. And I stay safe and put in London. I will join them for a Skype-Dumpling-lunch when New Year arrives.

PS: Btw it never gets boring in China’s trains. Ever saw a Chinese train attendant selling toothbrushes in a train? Well… it is a very special toothbrush, you will not get aaaaaanywhere else…

Are you travelling during China’s Spring Festival this year? How have you experienced ‘Chunyun’?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

7 thoughts on “Only in China: The annual Spring Festival mass migration 春运

  1. oh God I hate those trains! :D I took it to times – once with HK-Shanghai that gives you separate part from people boarding in HK and other for MC. then from SH to Guangzhou and it was as terrible as first one – with a little bit less food choice :D my biggest complaint was space for my back, only once I was lucky to have the down, more expensive seat – the other time it was the middle one and I almost cried from pain >.<

    • Really? That sounds awful. I usually try not to take too much luggage. But I don’t really like the lower bank. Don’t understand why it is more expensive. I am really small so I can actually sit straight even on the upper bank. But the middle bank really sucks. If I travel alone I always get soft sleeper. At least there you just have four beds and you can shut the door …

      • technically the lowest seat has the biggest space, you don’t need to climb etc. so probably they try to rip off people who have back problems like me, haha :)
        I will need to try the fancy soft sleepers haha :)

  2. Wow…looks quite uncomfortable, even for 2 hours…let alone 6!
    Well, at least it could’ve been worse. You could’ve been traveling on rail in India. Google some pics on that.

  3. Pingback: Sticky candy for the Chinese Kitchen God 祭灶 | The Mandarin Duck

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