The World’s Largest Annual Migration

13 Feb

With a population of over 1.35 billion it is perhaps not surprising that China is home to the world’s largest human migration, which takes place each year for the Chinese New Year. This year, the New Year fell on January 31st. This traditional Chinese holiday, is the most important and is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar. Known as The Spring Festival, or Chunyun, it lasts around 40 days, with hundreds of millions making travel arrangements to go back home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which this year was the Year of the Horse (Century, 2014). In 2013, a record 3.42 billion passenger trips were made in China during the 40-day period, including 3.1 billion long distance bus trips, 240 million railway journeys, 42.5 million trips by ship and 38.07 million journeys by plane (Jackson, 2013). This year however, the predictions were even higher. It was estimated that 3.62 billion trips would be made this year for the holiday, an increase of roughly 5.8% or 200 million trips. This mass migration is not unusual in China, and happens every year when the New Year is approaching. For many, this is the only time they are able to go back home and see their family. Migrant workers for example, who have demanding jobs in the city, many miles from their homes, see the Spring Festival as their once-a-year opportunity to visit their family (Century, 2014). Over 200 million people take to the rails, with tickets selling out months in advance and the journeys themselves are laborious and overcrowded with passengers crammed into every space on the carriages and even sleeping on the floor (McKenzie, 2014).

Baidu, China’s dominant search engine created a map using data from smartphones to track people’s locations, displaying the most travelled routes people were carrying out during the Spring Festival. Most of the routes were concentrated in China’s eastern region, particularly in the southeast. This is due to the rapid economic development drawing migrant workers from more rural areas to the large cities where there are many more employment opportunities. This enables people to find work in the city and earn a living, which they can use to help support their families back home. Unsurprisingly, China’s western region, including Tibet and Inner Mongolia remained mostly untraveled. Furthermore, education reforms in China has meant the number of University students studying away from home has increased and they also made up a significant proportion of travellers heading back home for the celebrations (Smith, 2014). At this time of year, the capital, Beijing, experiences a mass exodus of roughly one-third of the city’s total population of roughly 20 million people. The city’s subways are left virtually empty, when they are usually congested, and it has even been noted that the air quality of Beijing improves due to the huge reduction in car traffic (Century, 2014). Below is the Baidu map illustrating the migration routes over the Chinese New Year period.

Century, A. (2014) Lunar New Year Ushers in Greatest Human Migration, Available: Last accessed 13 Feb 2014

Jackson, A. (2013) Chinese New Year travel season sees record 3.42 billion trips, Available: Last accessed 13 Feb 2014

McKenzie, D. (2014) China’s great Lunar New Year migration: Following the journey home, Available: Last accessed 13 Feb 2014

Smith, L. (2014) Chinese New Year 2014: Baidu Map Captures Mass Homeward Migration, Available: Last accessed 13 Feb 2014


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