News / Asia

Millions Travel for Chinese Lunar New Year

William Ide
Much of China is on the move.

Millions are making their way home from cities across the country to celebrate the Lunar New Year with family. 

The massive annual spring migration, or “chunyun” as it is called here, will peak in the coming days with hundreds of thousands passing through train stations from Guangzhou in the south to Beijing in the North.

And for many, the burning question is: did you get a ticket?

One woman traveling to Hunan from Beijing says she easily bought her tickets online. She expects her train not to be very crowded because she's traveling on the high speed rail before the big crowds are expected to hit.

State media reports a record 3.4 billion trips are expected to be made during this year’s Lunar New Year period, which will usher in the Year of the Snake on Sunday, Feb. 10.

China has expanded Internet purchases of tickets this year, allowing travelers to book online 20 days in advance.

But many have complained that it has been extremely hard to get a seat.

One man says it took him more than a week to get his ticket, adding that while it is easy for younger Chinese like him to book online, migrant workers can only come to the train station and wait.

Wang Xiaohui, who works at an education center in Beijing, says he gave up after spending an entire week trying to purchase a ticket online.

This year he's taking a long bus ride to his hometown in Inner Mongolia for the first time. He says the entire trip will take 15 hours.

Wang Xiaohui says it was easier to book tickets prior to February first, but after that getting tickets was harder. He adds that while he went to the train station to wait in line several times in the evening, he could not get a ticket that way either.

For some it is difficult to get away from work long enough to stand in line and buy a ticket, so they give up.

Not everyone has trouble.

Li Sai, a Beijing resident who works in the northeastern province of Shandong, says he's flying home and only paid about $11 for his ticket.

Many of his friends from Beijing, however, are staying put.

According to Li, most of his friends from Beijing would rather stay in Shandong than come home because the city gets too polluted during the holidays from all the firecrackers.

There appears to be no simple solution to China’s once-a-year transportation bottleneck. 

Cai Jiming, a professor at Tsinghua University, believes the problem highlights China’s need for a strategy to address the growing percentage of city dwellers.

Cai says migrant workers should not only be allowed to come to China’s major cities and work, but to settle there as well. He says if they were encouraged to freely migrate to the cities, their families and parents would be there and they could spend the New Year together in the city.

More than 200 million migrant workers work in cities across China. But the workers and their families are not considered city residents and lack basic rights such as access to public education and health care. To cope, many families split up, with children and grandparents remaining in the countryside.

Until residency laws change, the Chinese New Year will continue to require the annual migration home to reunite with family for the holiday.

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