6 stories from chunyun, the world's largest annual human migration

Humans of China hears from Beijing residents travelling home for Chinese New Year

All images: Cameron Hack/Humans of China
Every Chinese New Year, an estimated 2.98 billion trips are made across China as millions return home to celebrate Spring Festival with their loved ones. Referred to as chunyun, this 40-day travel period is the largest annual human migration in the world, and sees roughly 11.8 million passengers travel from Beijing West Railway Station alone. We hear from six locals making the journey home to family this Chinese New Year.

Cameron Hack is a Beijing-based British photographer behind the Humans of China project, 'exploring China one person at a time'. Check out the WeChat account (ID: Humans-of-China) for more extraordinary stories from seemingly ordinary people.
'Plane tickets are far too expensive for us students to buy'

'Plane tickets are far too expensive for us students to buy'

We’re both 19 this year. We met at university and have been together for about two years. I’m from Xinjiang and my girlfriend is from Zhejiang. I’m leaving Beijing today so she’s accompanied me to the train station to say goodbye as we won’t see each other for two weeks or so. In a few days time she’ll take a train which should only take her about six hours. My train takes over 30 hours to arrive, and then I have to take a bus to eventually arrive home. Plane tickets are far too expensive for us students to buy, but the government gives us a discount on train tickets which we found quite easy to book.

We won’t go home together just yet, but I hope in the future I can take her home to celebrate Spring Festival with my family. We manage to go home twice a year during summer and spring. We both miss our families, but every weekend I video-call mine. I especially like to chat with my grandma so I’m glad to be going home to see her.

I don’t really have many plans this Spring Festival. I know that my parents will give me a red packet with some money, and I’m going to make sure I eat a lot of the food that I miss when I’m not at home. Xinjiang is full of really good food. 

'I miss my family, but it's my choice to stay and work in Beijing'

'I miss my family, but it's my choice to stay and work in Beijing'

We’ve been in Beijing for about two years now. We’re originally from the north of China, Heilongjiang, which isn’t far from Russia. It’s particularly cold in the winter, with some of the coldest days falling around minus 40 degrees Celsius. So weather wise, living in Beijing is much more comfortable than home.

I'm in Beijing helping my sister who runs a busy restaurant and we also work in a factory, which can be tough as there isn’t much freedom. We work ten hours a day and get two days off a month. We’ve been given two weeks off for Spring Festival, and last year we drove home, but now we’re about to board a train. In about 22 hours time we’ll arrive home. We tried to buy tickets as soon as they were released 18 days ago, but we didn't manage to get a spot with a bed so we have hard seats. It seems almost impossible to buy a bed during this time as the trains are so busy with people travelling home.

Plane tickets now are also so much more expensive than other times of the year. We looked at plane tickets, but it would have cost around 4,000RMB. Our train ticket is cheap, less than 250RMB. The plane wouldn't have taken us directly home anyway – we’d still have to take a train afterwards.

I can't wait to see my family again. All my family are home, and though I’m still young at 45, I’m already a grandma. I miss my family, but it’s my choice to stay and work in Beijing with my little sister. We all have mobile phones though, which makes it much easier to keep in touch.

I only get to go home around once a year so we really have to make the most of it. I don’t really have to travel home for the new year but I should, because I know my family will be sad otherwise. My husband will kill a pig and we’ll get the chance to eat, drink, relax, sing, dance and smoke. I love to smoke, and probably smoke a packet a day. People ask me how much I spend a year on cigarettes but I’d hate to think about it.

'We haven't been home for two years'

'We haven't been home for two years'

Before we came to Beijing two years ago we were farmers growing corn for very little money. When we first started out the money wasn’t bad, but as time went on, what we could sell the corn for wasn’t worth all the hard work and effort. There was no chance to really make money during the winter as we couldn’t grow anything so we would spend our days at home eating, sleeping and playing mahjong.

Our hometown is lovely in summer. It’s nice and cool, but in winter can be anything up to -30 degrees Celsius. We married when I was 21 and he was 23. In 2016 we took the train to Beijing to work at a farm growing organic vegetables. It was my very first time boarding a train and leaving north-east China. Here, the work is great and our boss treats us very well. Along with a good salary we have a nice place to live and the work isn’t too difficult. He often gives us things like rice, flour and oil to cook with so we are very happy to work for him.

We haven’t been home for two years – we didn’t have the chance last Spring Festival. This year, we’ve bought a ticket for a hard seat and the train should take about 16 hours to arrive. Although our parents have now passed away we still have two sons and grandchildren at home. Our only plan over the New Year is to relax and spend time with our family, who we dearly miss.

'Now I’m older, no one gives me lucky money anymore'

'Now I’m older, no one gives me lucky money anymore'

I live in Beijing with my family, but for Spring Festival we always go home. It only takes about three hours on the old green trains so throughout the year I often go home as it’s so close.

I’ve lived in Beijing for about ten years now. We came here when I was 15, though next year my parents plan on retiring so I think we’ll all move back home then. I’m lucky enough to be able to take my holiday earlier than others so it was easy for me to buy the ticket. Plus, there are lots of trains to Zhangjiakou and it’s cheap, only around 30RMB.

I don’t really have many plans for the festival but it’s a great time to relax, eat, sleep and play mahjong with my family and wife. We married when I was 22 and she was a year younger than me. We’ve been married for about five years now, and we’ve recently been thinking about having children, but there’s no rush. I have prepared some red packets to give to my parents, but now I’m older, no one gives me lucky money anymore.

'Beijing has its pros and cons'

'Beijing has its pros and cons'

We’re from different provinces, but we met at a party in Beijing when we were 17 years old and have been together ever since. We’ve been at university for a long time and I feel like I’ve spent my whole life studying. Next year I’ll graduate, and we plan to stay and work in Beijing for a few years.

Beijing has its pros and cons. There’s a lot of pressure in Beijing, and things aren’t cheap, but there are some really great opportunities for us. My boyfriend’s home is near the sea, and when we grow up we would like to live there as the air’s good and it would be a good place to have children. We have thought about having children and getting married but we’re still very busy studying.

I’m going back home today, so he’s brought me to the train station to make sure I get off okay. He’ll go home a few days later and spend about two weeks there. We only get to go home once a year and I know when I’m in Beijing my parents really miss their only child – but I also know they’re very proud of me.    

'I started growing this beard around 40 years ago'

'I started growing this beard around 40 years ago'

I started growing this beard around 40 years ago. I’m from Heilongjiang, one of the coldest places in China, so it helps keep my face warm. I live in Beijing with my son and daughter and we have bought tickets to go home, so I’m just collecting them now and in a few days we’ll be off! 

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