UK & World News
China: Mass Exodus Begins For Lunar New Year
The world's largest human migration is underway this week as China's 1.3 billion people travel home for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
On the country's vast rail network, in its congested skies and along its smog-clogged roads, the country's population is making the annual journey which for most will take at least 12 hours.
Beijing Railway Station is said to be the busiest place on the planet this week, and yet it is just one snapshot of this mass-movement.
There are throngs of people everywhere. Queuing outside the station, at the ticket halls, on the concourse and on the platforms. The departures board shows scores of destinations many of which are more than a thousand miles away.
The whole place is chaos and yet somehow ordered too. Travellers carry what they can and drag the rest. There is a clatter of wheelie suitcases and a loud hum of people; some excited and some frustrated at the journey ahead.
"This past year has been really busy", Liu Xin says. "Now it's time to go home, I'm so excited I couldn't even sleep last night.
"I'm happy, but this will be a tiring journey; such a long journey and with a child, on a crowded train, it is exhausting" another traveller says.
On one train we met the Lou Family. Their home is China's frozen north-east and the journey will last 21 hours.
"It's about 1,500km," Feng Yan says. "I haven't been back home for almost eight years, so it's very important for me."
"This is the only time of the year that everybody can be together," her husband, Luo Xinmin, says.
"We - the young generation - are all away working hard and if we don't go home for New Year, the love between family members will fade away," he says.
For the Chinese, nothing is more important than their New Year which, this year, falls tomorrow night. Just as Christmas traditionally prompts families to gather together, the Lunar New Year does the same.
But the vast distances in China and the fact that so many of China's workforce are migrant workers creates this mass-movement every year.
It is effectively the urbanisation of China in reverse for one week only. Millions of migrant workers of all types travel back to where they are from.
Tradition dictates that families will gather for a meal at midnight on Saturday. The festivities will then continue throughout next week before the migration process begins again and China slowly cranks back into action for another year.
However, there are signs that as China modernises and its population becomes wealthier and more mobile, tradition is falling away. An increasing number of Chinese are opting out of the journey home, instead choosing to use their new money to go on holiday.
Europe is an increasingly popular destination for wealthy Chinese travellers and there is an expectation of a significant boost to Chinese visitor numbers to European cities over the coming week.
High-end retailers in the UK could see an increase in sales too given the new-found Chinese love-affair with all things luxury.