China on the Move – Visualized

January 31 is Chinese New Year, the first day of the new year on the lunar calendar. Because it is the most important holiday for spending time with family, the month-long “Spring Festival” sees a mass migration of people from their places of work or study in one part of the country to their hometowns in other parts of the country. 


The Chinese search engine, Baidu, has launched what they call a “heat map,” that visualizes, in real time, this mass migration that is taking place.

Here’s a description from  Tech in Asia:

Baidu  has launched a heat map of where Chinese travelers are heading to, coming from, and which routes are most popular during Chinese New Year, the country’s largest national holiday.


It’s a time when most Chinese either return home to their families or go on vacation, and it’s the largest annual mammalian migration on Earth. During the 40-day holiday period – which is called Spring Festival in Chinese – 3.6 billion passenger trips will be made across all modes of transportation (Note: most people only get eight days off).

The heat map updates every four to eight hours, showing the most popular destinations, points of origin, and travel routes. It includes a search function so you can see stats from specific cities and time frames. Here’s a few stats as of press time:


  • The most popular destination is Beijing, followed by Chongqing. The hub cities in Hunan and Guangxi provinces tie for third.
  • Beijing is also the most popular city to leave, followed by Shanghai and Guangzhou.
  • The trip both to and from Chengdu and Beijing take up the top two most popular routes.

Last week, the New York Times blog Sinosphere had a post about this annual migration:

Demonstrating a deeply felt need among hundreds of millions of people working away from home to return for the most important festival of the year, a good portion of China’s 1.35 billion people are expected to make over 3.6 billion journeys – by plane, train, automobile, bus, motorized tricycle and probably a few donkeys.


The sentiment of “home at any cost” is summed up by a catchy saying: “Rich or Poor, Home for New Year” (有钱没钱, 回家过年) and the enormous human activity needed to make that happen is called the “Spring Transport” (春运)。


That movement of people strains the country’s transportation system, with tickets hard to buy, controversies over ticket sale systems, black-marketeering by “yellow oxen” (as the marketeers are called), trains packed like sardine tins and fights over boarding, lines and seats. But the end goal – celebrating with family – is considered worth it. This year, New Year’s Day is Jan. 31, beginning the Year of the Horse.

And Shanghaiist published some photos of what a train car looks like at the end of one of these journeys. 


 When people ask me about a good time to travel in China, I tell them NOT during Spring Festival. Now you know why!