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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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  • michael

    beijing is a terrific city i think

  • Angel

    The public transportation options in Beijing aren’t helping either. First of all, the subway system is pretty terrible. From the last time I was here in Sept. to this time, they lowered the subway fare by 1 RMB which you would think would encourage more people to take the subway. However, the subway cars are old, rickety (or “crumbly” as a sign on a bathroom stall read in Chinglish I came across the other day), unpredictable, and crowded. Second, transfer stations are extremely poorly set up. I switched from the 2nd to the 13th line the other day and had to go above ground for about .25 miles to get to the 13th line. During rush hour, Chinese people get funneled through amusement park line-esque metal barriers into these station entrances. I don’t know if they think it’s suppose to help efficiency or what, but it just ends up creating a maze one has to walk through to even get into the station, which wastes a ton of time. Let’s not even get started on the metro-bus transfers … supposedly Beijing has a BRT … I think I may have ridden it the other day, but it got stuck in traffic, so perhaps it wasn’t. I also think it’s funny that Beijing also calls its subway “metro,” like D.C. It makes me feel like I’m at home, except for when the angry Chinese man wearing white gloves pushes me into an already sardine-packed subway car of passengers.