700 Million Chinese Head Home for Chinese New Year

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 31, 2011

Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

(by Peter Foster, Telegraph.co.uk) – The logistical miracle that is Chinese New Year [began] this weekend as 700 million migrant workers return to home to their families to celebrate the start of ‘Year of the Rabbit,’ which begins [on] Thursday.

Guangzhou ChinaBut for many taking part in the largest single movement of humanity anywhere in the world, getting home feels more like a marathon than a miracle, as they queue [stand in line] for hours in the freezing cold to buy tickets for trains that now have standing room only.  [Photo at right: Thousands of passengers wait for trains and tickets at a railway station in Guangzhou.]

Guo Lixing, a 25-year-old logistician who had been working down in the southern city of Suzhou this past year was among the thousands thronging the concourse of Beijing’s main railway station on Friday trying to get a ticket home.

Despite all the billions invested in China’s railway system in recent years seats are still hard to come by, with 35 million more passengers travelling this year than five years ago.

This week one migrant worker who had reached the limits of his frustration stripped naked in protest when he failed to a get ticket after 14 hours [standing on line] at a station in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

Although not yet quite desperate enough to strip, Ms Guo was getting increasingly anxious that she would be unable to complete the final leg of her journey from Beijing to the small city of Handan in Hebei province.

“The train to Beijing took 22 hours and we had standing-tickets only,” she said, keeping a careful eye on the new computer with flatscreen monitor and wireless keyboard that she’d bought as a present for her young nephew. “Now we’re trying to get to Handan, but the office says there are no tickets on the fast train.”

Amid the din of street peddlers selling vacuum-packed roasted Peking ducks, a tasty treat for a New Year’s feast, Ms Guo stood guarding the baggage as she waited for a friend to return with news of their onward journey.

Despite the wait and the biting cold she, like the other 230 million Chinese taking a train home this year, was trying to stay patient, buoyed by the thought of the family reunion that lay in store after a long year away working.

“I just can’t wait to see my parents and my three brothers again,” said Ms Guo, a member of China’s new urban middle class bringing the fruits of her labors back home to her parents who were still farmers in Hebei.

Like countless millions across China next week, Ms Guo will spend her holiday paying her respects to relatives in her village and helping her mother make ‘Jiaozi’ – delicious, savoury pork-filled dumplings which are as traditional to a Chinese new year celebration as turkey is to an English Christmas.

“I just want to eat Jiaozi, steamed breads, noodles and congee [rice-porridge],” added Ms Guo, conjuring up the comforts of home cooking, so dear to all Chinese. “In Suzhou down south, they always just eat rice and more rice. I miss northern food the most.”

After the feasting the family, Ms Guo, along with more than 700 million others (723 million watched last year) will settle down to watch the state broadcaster’s annual Spring Festival Television Gala, a five-hour spectacular of Beijing Opera, dancing, magic, movie stars and comedy skits.

“I’ll definitely be watching,” says Chi Deshuang, a migrant labourer returning home to the port city of Dalian after a year working on Beijing’s construction sites, “we’ll make Jiaozi and I’ve got some Beijing cakes for my mother in my bag, the special ones she really loves. I will give some money too from my earnings.”

Other popular Spring Festival pastimes include exploding vast quantities of fireworks – originally to drive away evil spirits and herald the coming of Spring – and going shopping. Retail sales in the so-called ‘Golden Week’ are expected to exceed [almost $48] billion this year.

However, all such pleasures depend first on reaching home safely, a feat that despite the frustrations and delays everyone appears to achieve in the end, with more than 2.5 billion passenger journeys to be completed by the week’s end.

After her freezing three-hour wait, a huge smile suddenly breaks across Ms Guo’s face as her friend returns clutching two precious tickets to Handan.

It’s the slow train (which means another five hours standing) and it departs from a railway station on the other side of the city (which means a tortuous bus journey with all her luggage).

But none of that matters.

“I’m going home,” says Ms Guo with an involuntary, triumphant jump of joy before gathering up her bags and disappearing into the throng in search of that bus, adding over her shoulder, “Chunjie kuai le! Happy New Year!”

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  • As next week's lunar new year approaches, a record 230 million people are taking to the railways for China's biggest holiday - 35 million more than five years ago - and the fight for a seat or sleeper booth is tougher than ever.
  • The jostling crowds at Beijing West station have reason to be on edge - one batch of tickets at the station sold out in just 30 minutes.
  • "This year it's been extremely hard to get one," said Zhang Xiuhua, who [stood in line] for seven hours overnight in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Farenheit but found everything had sold out by the time he reached the front.
  • The next day, he emerged victorious after a second, 11-hour wait.
  • Train tickets go on sale only a few days before the date of travel.
  • Officials say travellers will make a total of 2.85 billion trips over the 40-day period. Most are migrant workers returning home to see parents, children and other family members. For many, it is a once-a-year reunion, while for some it is the first time they have gone back for several years.
  • Journeys can take 30 or 40 hours, and only the better off can afford sleeper tickets or comfortable soft seats. But the mood is usually convivial, with people chatting, playing cards and chewing their way through mountains of sunflower seeds.
  • "It's OK if we just get standing tickets - Henan is not too far away. It only takes 10 hours or so," Cai Xuewei, a 39-year-old labourer, said as his friend queued for tickets.
  • Earlier this month, the railways ministry said the ticket shortage would be largely solved by 2015. But Chinese websites pointed to its earlier pledges that the issue would be dealt with by 2010 and then 2012. (from guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/27/china-railways-lunar-new-year)


  • Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The Chinese year 4709 begins on Feb. 3, 2011.
  • New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest.
  • In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.
  • Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality.
  • At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck.
  • The fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.
  • In China, the New Year is a time of family reunion. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year's Eve.
  • The lantern festival is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.
  • In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon-which might stretch a hundred feet long-is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo.
  • Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. In the United States, where the New Year is celebrated with a shortened schedule, the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend. In addition, many Chinese-American communities have added American parade elements such as marching bands and floats.