China's Moving Masses

Traffic in Beijing on a normal day. Photo by 2 dogs from Flickr.

During their annual holiday, Chinese workers participate in one of the largest human migrations in history, with hundreds of millions of city-dwellers returning to rural areas to visit family and friends who still live in the hinterlands of this rapidly urbanizing country. Because of Chinese laws, workers have no say when they take vacation, but the Chinese government does, setting aside three weeks each year for holidays, periods when factories shut down and workers return home or go on vacation. During the Chinese New Year holiday, which runs from Jan 14 to February 22, it is estimated that as many as two billion passenger trips take place, using 700,000 thousand buses, three hundred extra trains, not to mention the skyrocketing number of private cars now in circulation.

Because of the shear number of people living in China, combined with the law mandating that Chinese workers take the same vacation days, congestion, crowds, and chaos have become a hallmark of Chinese vacations. In fact, the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this week that crowding and congestion have become such problems that the state is considering changing its vacation laws so that workers don’t all vacation at the same time. This would be a welcome measure; after all, who wants to sit in traffic while on vacation?

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