In terms of raw numbers in almost every category, the Chinese New Year Spring Festival is the largest human event on the planet. In the seven days of the Lunar New Year, Chinese are expected to spend more than $100 billion on eating and shopping (almost twice as much as Americans spend on Thanksgiving).
But it's when millions of Chinese people go home for the Chinese New Year Spring Festival during "chunyun" — the annual spring migration — that China's flair for organization on a gargantuan scale really comes into its own.
While the average individual trip last year was about 410 kilometers, the total number of trips is expected to reach 1.2 billion kilometers: the equivalent of eight times the distance from Earth to the Sun or a leisurely rocket ride to Saturn.
The "chunyun" phenomenon isn't just a marvel of logistics — bus and railway ticket halls can clear massive lines at breakneck speed — it also shows how modern China is changing. Trains are sardine-packed with thousands of snoozing students, reflecting education reforms that have greatly expanded the number of university places over the past decade.
The tides of Chunyun typically have two peaks. As this year's Spring Festival falls on Jan. 28, the peaks are expected on Jan. 25 when people leave for home and on Feb. 2 when they return for work. College students and 270 million migrant workers are the main travelers.
As for the direction of the flow, people generally move from the country's booming eastern and southern coasts, as well as Beijing, to inland cities, towns, and villages before the new year. A reverse trend occurs about a week after the holiday.