Some hefted their luggage on bamboo shoulder poles. Others carried their things in plastic buckets. All were migrant workers hurrying to get home Thursday before China‘s Lunar New Year festival — a holiday that triggers one of the world’s biggest annual migrations of humans.
Although the celebration is more than two weeks away, the travelers had to get an early start in a country where 188 million people — more than the population of Russia — were expected to squeeze onto trains during the hectic season.
Many workers were forced to go home even earlier this year because their factories went belly up or their assembly lines were idle amid the global economic crisis.
By WILLIAM FOREMAN, Associated Press Writer
A migrant worker nears the train station in Guangzhou, southern China’s Guangdong province, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. Some 188 million Chinese are expected to squeeze onto China’s train network in the coming weeks to return home for the Chinese Lunar New Year.(AP Photo/William Foreman)
“Last year, I went back home five or six days before the holiday started. This year, I’m going back about 20 days earlier,” said migrant Huang Mingren as he waited for his train.
For Huang and many others, the trip begins at the crowded station in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, often called the world’s factory floor because it’s China’s key manufacturing base. This is where a huge number of China’s 160 million migrant workers churn out Nike shoes, iPods and Nokia mobile phones.
“Lots of factories have been closing. The toy factory I was working at is about to go under, so the boss just told us to leave early,” added Huang, a wiry 32-year-old native of central Hunan province.
Many migrants also hit the road early because they were worried about the weather. Last year, ice storms paralyzed the transport system in southern China during the peak holiday season, forcing millions to delay or cancel their plans. About 200,000 were stranded at Guangzhou’s station and spent nights outside in a freezing drizzle.