Spring Festival homecoming craze a tradition rooted in a thousand-year inheritance
Published: Jan 11, 2023 12:45 AM
Sun Fanjun (C), a ticket inspector, guides passengers through ticket gates at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 5, 2020. China, the world's most populated country, on Jan. 10 ushered in its largest annual migration, 15 days ahead of the Spring Festival, or the Lunar New Year. This year, three billion trips will be made during the travel rush from Jan. 10 to Feb. 18 for family reunions and travel, according to official forecast. The 40-day travel rush is known as Chunyun in Chinese. The Lunar New Year falls on Jan. 25 this year, earlier than previous years, which brings a bigger challenge to the transport system as the return trips of college students overlap with the travel rush. Among all means of transportation, high-speed railway is the most favored for the Chunyun travelers. China's high-speed railway network tops the world with an estimated length of 35,000 km by the end of 2019. Traveling by high-speed rail is not merely fast but also comfortable. Facilitated by new technologies, such as online booking and face-scanning check-in service, and advanced transport facilities, people have enjoyed shortened journey time as well as pleasant convenience. But to make all these happen, a large number of railway staff have to work with their utmost efforts during this busiest period of time for the whole year. Most of them are just ordinary workers unknown by the travelers they serve. (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)

Sun Fanjun (C), a ticket inspector, guides passengers through ticket gates at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 5, 2020. (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu)

As the grand 40-day Chinese chunyun, or Spring Festival travel rush, gets underway, discussions over this first-ever annual large migration within the country since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019 has spread all over Chinese social media. 

Feelings are mixed. People are excited about the upcoming reunion with their families. But there are worries among young people in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen who fear that even while the peak of Omicron infections may be over, there are risks to catching the virus again when attending parties or on their way back home in transportation.

Around a month ago, Chen Ting, a Beijing-based photographer, said she turned down all the party invitations from her friends to avoid the potential infection.

Still, as the bell rung on Saturday as ticket sales for chunyun opened on Chinese various ticketing platforms, the country's Ministry of Transport estimated on the same day that the overall number of traffic flow for 2023's chunyun period is about to reach nearly 2.1 billion, a huge rebound equal to 70 percent of movements in 2019.

According to China's ticketing platform, with the optimistic travel expectations of people's urgent desire to return home, the tickets booking this year has advanced about a week earlier than that during the epidemic prevention and control period. 

But why is there such a huge wave of Chinese returning home during the Spring Festival despite this risk? 

The wave in fact reflects the reunion gene rooted in Chinese culture for thousands of years. People who travel afar for a whole year value more-than-ever toward families and their own hometown, to resist the loneliness they felt in another city.

"Why it is necessary for me to go home for Spring Festival? There are many answers. I go back for visiting parents and attending class reunions," said writer Yao Yuming. "Reunion in Spring Festival is the most important motif. Otherwise I feel something is lost."

Reunion reflects the difference between the values of the Western world and China, while the former focuses on individualism, the latter group consciousness.

The cultural genes of Chinese are inevitably imprinted with group consciousness and agricultural civilization, which emphasizes the collectiveness, and is also reflected in the people's nostalgia for their homeland.

The author is an editor of the Global Times.