The largest annual migration on earth is now in progress as China prepares for the Lunar or Asian New Year.
China has a migrant population of several million workers who mostly leave rural homes for industrial and manufacturing areas to work in places like Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.
The migrant workers are among 188 million people heading home for the holidays. To be in one’s family home at New Years makes for a “lucky” year, according to Chinese culture and belief.
This year the migration started weeks earlier than normal as China closes shop due to the troubled economy. Many workers ill not return to work this year for the same reason: the economy is grinding downward.
Most experts say this is the largest migration ever in China because of the global economic downturn. Railroads are overwhelmed by the number of travelers.
“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, three weeks ago.
Now many travelers are saying they have no jobs to return to.
“‘I’ll go home and stay for the first time in more than 20 years,” said Le Hong. “No jobs in city any more.”
China fears that social unrest and dissent will grow due to the economic troubles and several important anniversaries. Thirty years ago, Chinese students started a pro-democracy uprising in Tiananmen Square.
By John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia
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A migrant worker nears the train station in Guangzhou, southern China’s Guangdong province. Some 188 million Chinese are expected to squeeze onto China’s train network to return home for the Chinese Lunar New Year.(AP Photo/William Foreman)