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China: Hard to get home in a time for family reunion

A journey to home preludes most people's Spring festival. It usually starts a few days before the Chinese New Year eve. And when they are to say goodbye to their families, the short holiday will end with another journey back to a place far away from home.

The Spring Festival Travel, or Chunyun, is the largest annual human migration that carries over 2 billion passengers every year, in a short time not exceeding 40 days. This year the New Year is on Jan 26. 15 days before that Chunyun kicked off; today, 31, Jan, the return journey begins.

The spectacular movement, with waves of humanity crowded in rail stations, airports, and roads, is driven by the core value of the festival, that is, family reunion.

The rapid but in some sense distorted urbanization in China highlights the meaning of family reunion. As many as 200 million labor from rural areas are working in cities, while leaving the entire family behind to earn a better life in a place foreign to them. Spring Festival, to most of them, is the only chance to see their beloved families again because of the high cost of going home.

One of the side effects is the unparalleled difficulty to get home. The carrying capacity falls behind the surging demand. On the other hand, the monopolized, state-controlled railway is routinely under vehement critiques every year. Because of the strong demand and restricted price, ticket scalpers flourished. Clerks in booking offices, meanwhile, is thought by many as the major culprit in complicity with the ticket dealers to drive up the ticket price. If a survey is conducted, I bet it is among the most unpopular careers in China.

In Beijing, a ticket clerk, who issued tickets from machine but didn't sell them to passengers, and instead, put them aside regardless of the long queue waiting, was shot by cellphone, the video uploaded to the internet soon. People doubt the ticket are preserved for scalpers. Thousands of people, with strong sympathy, joined the condemnation of the clerk.

楚天阁 in Tianya said:

看过这几段视频,再想想那些在寒风中为了一张火车票排很久队的人。北京站37窗口的售票员同志良心何在?

Watch the video, and then think of the people waiting in chilly wind like for ever just for one ticket. Where is the clerk's (in counter No.37 , Beijing station) conscience gone?

The clerk is only one epitome of the entire interest group, the Ministry of Railways, which operates all the railways in China, called by people “railway big brother.” Blogger Zhu Weidong points out the absurdity of the railway monopoly, which he thinks is not understandable at all:

铁老大独家经营的垄断地位也一直未变。

铁路保持国有垄断经营是否会效益更好、服务更优呢?事实刚好相反。铁路部门经常性亏损尽人皆知。服务如何?过去说政府部门门难进、脸难看、事难办,铁路部门是有过之而无不及。

The monopoly of railway remains unchanged all the years.
However, would monopoly brings it more benefit and better service?
The fact goes the opposite way. The railway system is routinely in the red. Then how is the service? Well, even worse than government offices, which are hard to get in, difficult to have things done, and often greeting you with a cold face.

A post cited by the official media Xinhua, named “unobtainable tickets tell all about urbanization“, analyzed the underlying cause of the hardship of getting home. In the blogger Den Yu-wen's view, making transportation better is not as good as making cities the real home for migrant workers.

另一方面要减少人们回家的需求,特别是把农民工留在他工作的城市里。而要把农民工留在城市,就必须把他的家庭也留在城市。

……On the other hand we should let the migrant workers stay at where they work. To achieve that, we have to stay their families with them in cities.

由于农民在居住、养老和子女入学等方面遭遇一系列难题,目前农民不可能从心里真正把城市作为自己的家,也就难以真正融入当地社会,所以他们不得不每年候鸟般地在农村和城市之间来回奔走。

Because of the many problem facing the migrant workers, including housing, social security and education for children, they cannot take cities as their real home, nor are they able to really merge into the city communities. So they have to shuttle every year like birds of passage.

The status quo is that migrant workers don't enjoy as comprehensive social security as that of the urban citizens. It is not that cities are their mines to find bonanza, but that they are cheap tools for cities to use for exploitation.

Besides the institutional discrimination against the migrant labor, the writer further points out:

主要在于我们的城市化是一个被动的、盲目的过程,多数城市主政者只想解决城市发展所需要的廉价劳动力.而不去认真探究和解决它所衍生的一系列问题。就此来说,春运难的背后,实际反映了中国的地区发展差距特别是城市化的滞后。

Our urbanization is a passive, blind process. Most city administrators only care about how to introduce in more cheap labor, rather than any of the problems that come along with it。 In this sense, the Spring Travel actually reflects the disparity of regional development, and particularly, the delay of the real urbanization.

Blogger Willings (驿动的心) wrote a touching post to conclude that, “you'll understand today's China as long as you understand Chunyun (Spring Travel).”

只有乘坐长途火车,经历过春运的人,才能真正理解中国,才可以称之为一个真正的中国人。中华民族的所有苦难,都集中体现在春运历程中。

Only those having been on the long-distance trains, having gone through Spring Travel, can really understand China, can be thought as a real Chinese. The tribulation of Chinese is no better revealed than in the Spring Travel.

选项A:买不到票;选项B:买到高价票;选项C:买到假票;选项D:不回家。

Choice A: no ticket
Choice B: overpriced ticket
Choice C: fake tickets
And D: Don't go home

但在当今中国,即使穷人之间也一样互相倾轧,票贩子心安理得的赚取高额利润,小偷们心满意足的清点钞票,从打工妹,打工仔身上毫不留情的大赚特赚,只留下她们坐在地上嚎啕大哭的背影。在当今中国,利益的攫取,已经取代了仁义礼智信的古训,人民失去了信仰,除了对金钱的崇拜。

In today's China, even the poor are taking all the advantage of each other. The scalpers felt no guilty for earning unworthy profit, thieves count money satisfactorily, exploiting workers relentlessly, leaving them sitting on the ground crying. In today's China, the pursuit of interest have taken place of what old adages teach. People lose their faith, except that on money.

火车站的广场上,站满了数万数十万渴望回家的人们。他们披星戴月,他们风餐露宿,他们饥寒交迫的站在广场上,密密麻麻一眼望不到边,每个人都是那样的焦急,他们是最底层的中国人,他们只有最简单渴望回家的愿望,却无人给他们帮助。既然他们买不起飞机票,于是他们就注定命如蝼蚁,注定命贱如草….

On the plaza of railway stations, thousands of people stand there anxious for going home. They wait day and night, they sleep right on the ground, they stay there in hunger. The compact throng spreads to distance. They are the grassroot Chinese. They are only eager for home, but no one help them. Since they cannot afford an air ticket, they are destined to be as cheap as grass and ant.

车厢里密密麻麻,过道里水泄不通,空气浑浊不堪,厕所极度肮脏,这些都是春运的常态,不是你我所应抱怨的……

The crowded carriages have people everywhere even in the passages. The air grows thick, washroom dirty. But this is normal in Spring Travel, not what we are to complain……

我们办得好春晚,办得好奥运,却始终办不好春运。

We can have a great Spring Festival Gala, have a great Olympics, but it seems that we can never get the Spring Travel right.

3 comments

  • Chang

    Poor Chinese people! You have been suffering so much so long. When can you realize the cause of your sufferings?

  • george wasintown

    2,000,000,000 Chinese who only have the chance to go and see their families once a year. Although they endure many hardships to get a train ticket on one of the dangerously overcrowded trains, they might not even be able to get one as many can not afford the inflated prices, thus having to wait for another year in agony to see their loved ones.

    Here we have a perfect example of the enslavement by Big Business of much of the country’s own population.

  • george wasintown

    correction; 200,000,000 Chinese

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