Chinese New Year: Celebration and Migration
April 28, 2011
As a recently moved expat living in Beijing, I was very fortunate to experience my first Chinese New Year in China. It’s really something watching a whole country of over a billion people shut down for a holiday as all of the factories we work with closed down for nearly two weeks as all the workers returned home to their families. Even Beijing became something resembling a ghost town as the city of 22 million people seemed to cut it’s population in half over night. My nighttime commute back home by bus went from an hour and a half down to a half hour from the massive reduction in traffic around the city (that says something to the cities traffic problems, but that’s for another post). I was truly blown away by the fireworks show that was put on. Calling it a “fireworks display” doesn’t quite do the spectacle justice, as fireworks were made available to just about anyone who could get their hands on at least 20 RMB. So one could only imagine what even a half emptied city as big as Beijing looked like when midnight rolled around, as it seemed everyone able to operate a lighter was setting off their own fireworks. It wasn’t long before a haze covered Beijing from all the explosives cutting visibility in half.
What may be even more impressive than the actual site of millions of people celebrating en masse with fireworks, is the mass movement of people around the country. The Chinese New Year happens to be the largest yearly migration of people in the world, with the Associated Press reporting 230 million people in transit during this holiday. It could be described as American Thanksgiving on steroids, which would be the busiest travel day of the year back in the US. However, that many people in transit does not come without it’s problems as icy road conditions and sometimes scarce train tickets can sometimes get in the way of visiting family, as described in this Time Magazine article. One of the most touching stories I came across though was this one in China Smack, about workers’ mass motorcycle migrations as “armies” of motorcycles travel in groups bundled up for the cold, wet trip back home (in some instances forced to travel by motorcycle as a result of hard to find train tickets).
For many workers around the country, this holiday is their only chance all year to visit their families. So with China in the midst of such rapid and dynamic growth it’s no wonder that such a massive amount of people (larger than the population of Brazil) are in need to go long distances to visit home as many are among the first in the family to move away for work. However it is startling how smoothly everything went with all things considered, as it’s now back to business as usual, with the cities slowly repopulating and the factories firing back up.
Author: Buck Perley, CPG Marketing Associate