Chūn Yùn (春运) – Mass Migration for Chinese New Year

I’m sure you have heard of Chinese New Year. If you’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant, you would have most likely noticed one of those fancy placemats with the Chinese zodiacs.

Well, that is in essence a simplified version of the zodiac tied to that Lunar New Year (if you were born in January or February before that year’s Lunar New Year, you will actually be the zodiac from the prior Gregorian calendar year). Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is a celebration of the Lunar New Year. It’s the biggest festival of the year on the Chinese calendar.

By and large, it is the only opportunity for many Chinese people to see their families that year, especially the migrant workers and other people that are not originally from the larger cities. There is another week long holiday, China’s National Day in October, but for many they only return home once a year, whether it is due to money or otherwise. People save up for gifts and look forward to Spring Festival all year. It’s a time to reconnect with loved ones, relax, and enjoy some good food.

The weeks leading up to it are nowhere near relaxing for many people though, it’s a frenetic race to get tickets home in what is considered to be the world’s largest annual human migration. China typically limits train ticket sales to 10 days before the departure date, but with Spring Festival allows 20 days before to purchase online or via telephone. But maintains 10 days in advance for in-person purchases at the train station. This means that people are bogging down the official website (, and attempting to snag those precious seated tickets. Otherwise they may be stuck away from their family for an extra day or two, or have to stand for hours on the train (some trains can take 19 hours or so, China is big after all).

People have developed ways around the digital bottleneck, such as using Alipay, which is Alibaba’s online payment system, or using plugins that will purchase the tickets for you. This has given people that have the means and skills to use this technology a pretty large advantage. This has lead to people voicing the opinion that standing tickets should at least be cheaper than the seated tickets.

All I know is that this is a time to stay away from Chinese planes, trains, and automobiles! Ticket prices are higher, cabins are packed, and there is a general feeling of hysteria.

Hope you all enjoy your Chinese New Year! 新年快乐!恭喜发财!(Practice your Mandarin by learning these traditional Spring Festival sayings.)