Largest population migration of all time: hundreds of millions of people moving

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The Year of the Dragon begins in China with the largest population migration in human history. A glimmer of hope about the economy?

February 10th marks the start of the Year of the Dragon in China. Lunar New Year is celebrated not only in the People's Republic of China but also in many Asian countries. The so-called spring festival is an occasion where millions of people meet their families. In China, many people take trains from large coastal cities to their home villages or small provincial towns inland to visit parents or grandparents.

The peak travel season around the Chinese New Year, known as “Chunyun”, starts on January 26th this year and lasts until March 5th. The Chinese Ministry of Transport predicts about nine billion individual trips during this period – a record. This high number arises because many of China's 1.4 billion people require multiple trips to reach their destination or to visit family members in different locations. This may be the largest migration in human history.

A train station in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou: For the Spring Festival, many Chinese travel to visit their relatives in the countryside. © Imago/VCG

“Everybody meets once a year”

The Spring Festival has a similar meaning to the Chinese as Christmas does to us. “Everyone gets together once a year,” says Liu Haiyang. The 26-year-old works at a bank in Shenzhen, a technology metropolis in southern China. “You meet your family and your friends.” He booked his plane ticket a month ago and will fly to Beijing, about 2,000 kilometers north of Shenzhen, shortly before February 10.

Last year, people in China were able to visit their relatives without restrictions for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the number of trips increased by about 50 percent compared to the pandemic year of 2022, it was still significantly lower than before the pandemic. So, it looks like there is a lot of work to be done this year.

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Every year, the Chinese people's interest in traveling is expected to benefit the country's economy. It is currently struggling with a number of problems, including a real estate crisis and heavily indebted provincial governments. Economists are also concerned about low private consumption. The Spring Festival, traditionally a time for shopping, dining and staying in hotels, can lead to a short-lived economic revival.

Spring Festival 2023: A Super Spreader Event?

Unlike last year, worries about contracting the coronavirus may be much less for most Chinese people visiting their loved ones now. However, last year's Spring Festival may have been a super spreader event. Although state media claim that there are “no major infections,” recent population data in particular casts doubt on this claim. 700,000 more people died in China last year than in 2022. The figure is in line with estimates by foreign experts who predicted around one million corona deaths after the sudden end of China's strict zero-covid policy just before the Spring Festival.

According to statistics, China's population decreased by about two million people last year. The main reason for this is declining births: only about nine million babies will be born in 2023, half as many as in 2016. However, more children may be born again in the year of the dragon, which is just beginning. According to popular belief, so-called “dragon children” can expect a particularly happy life. (sh)

The author wrote this article and then used the AI ​​language model for optimization at his own discretion. All information has been carefully checked. Here Learn more about our AI policies.

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