Thanksgiving, an American holiday of grand proportions, combines the United States’ two biggest loves: car travel and excessive eating. The holiday, celebrating a colonial truce, embodied through the sharing of foods at a common table, will bring many families together…many traveling more than 50 miles (80.46 kilometers) to sit and give thanks -and pumpkin pie and stuffing and casserole- in unison. In its annual Thanksgiving Travel Forecast , the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that this “Turkey Day” will attract a five year high of trips, at 43.6 million travelers. Though many travelers along the East Coast, myself included, are traveling by bus and train to get to candied yams and cranberry sauce, 90-percent of Thanksgiving revelers will make their 50+ mile trips by private automobile, with 7-percent getting about by plane and a measly 3-percent of us will make this trips by train or intercity bus. We are a lonely 3-percent who are going home sustainably.
Across the globe, holidays bring together family and friends, but this very concentrated movement of people pales in comparison to the largest annual human migration on planet earth: 春运 or chunyun. The 40 day equivalent of our comparatively mild Thanksgiving week trek in the United States, chunyun, or the trip made by millions of Chinese for Lunar New Year, stuffs trains full of passengers who sit, stand and cram onto trains – largely from the industrial coasts- to the inland provinces. 144 million people in 2008 (the numbers are ostensibly higher now) traveled for chunyun by trains running at 162-percent capacity just to get home. Photos detailing the ordeal have been chronicled in this photo blog: excruciating lines, and unprecedented humanity, all for the sake of family and tradition.
Heshuang Zeng, a research analyst at EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, is a Chinese National and has endured a very different sort of chunyun. “I flew from Beijing to Fujian. If I took a train the same distance, it would take 16 hours for the same trip.” Not only is travel in itself difficult for chunyun (as illustrated in the aforementioned photoblog), but the opportunity to travel is similarly laborious. “The train tickets I could get from university would be for a hard seat…I could not get a sleeping car ticket. Tsinghua has a program for students to get home. It is very uncomfortable to sit on a hard seat for 16 hours, and I was lucky enough to have parents that could afford the flight. A ticket for a plane costs 1500 yuan, about US$240 one way, compared to the 100 yuan or US$16 that a Uni sponsored train ticket cost.” In the United States, travel may be similarly expensive given the cost of gasoline, yet China is a nation with a significantly smaller per capita income and significantly more arduous trip home for the holidays. Let us be thankful in the United States for a family celebration which creates lines that look like the cover photo of this post…and not those that are experienced during chunyun.