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:


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:



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.


……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.


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:


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).”


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.


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


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.


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.


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……


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


  • 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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