The World’s Largest Mass Migration

Caitlin Dempsey


Each year, millions of people move around China to be near friends and family in order to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  This mass movement of people is considered the world’s largest annual mass migration.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is also known as the Lunar New Year and is considered the most important public holiday in China.  This annual celebration is an important holiday in China as its residents ring in the start of the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar.  Falling on the second new moon after the winter solstice, the Chinese New Year can fall anytime each year between January 21st and February 20th.

Largest Mass Annual Human Migration

Surrounding the Chinese New Year is a forty-day travel period known as “Chunyun,” meaning “Spring Festival Transport”. Each year, Chinese officials calculate that well over 3 billion passenger trips occur during this period and overwhelms the Chinese transportation system.  During this impacted period, there are more travelers than there are available seats on buses and trains.   In 2015, Chunyun began on February 4th and will last until March 16th with the New Year falling on February 19th.  The China Railway Corporation (CRC) reported that in 2014 there were 266 million trips by railway, up 12% from 2013.  According to, 3.7 billion trips using public transportation and private cars will be made during this period.

Map of Migration

A map visualizing this annual mass migration is available from Baidu, the Chinese search engine that is responsible for ‘Baidu Migrate’. Pulling data from its 350 million mobile phone users, the online map highlights travel activity by along car, plane, and railway routes.  The map pulls locational data from smartphone users in China as they travel who access Baidu maps and other locational apps in order to show patterns of migration during the Chunyun travel period. A reverse migration, many laborers leave China’s urban centers to return home to rural locations for the celebration.  It’s also a time for college students to return home.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.