China Welcomes the Year of the Rabbit: The Great Internal Migration

As China ushers in the Year of the Rabbit, it is accompanied by perhaps the world's greatest internal migration. The colossal human spectacle of the "chunyun", or "Spring Festival transport", is simultaneously a bewildering and awe-inspiring sight. Some 2 billion trips are expected over the roughly month-long holiday period, as China's transport system creaks under the weight of endless humanity. This photo series from ChinaSmack perfectly captures the battle scene and the associated exhaustion:

"Chun Yun" has been called history's largest periodic human migration. Within a span of around 40 days, over 2 billion trips are made. Photo is of 2008 where passengers were delayed at the Guangzhou Railway Station due to snowstorms."

I've always told anyone who would listen that to fully grasp and internalize the immensity of China, you must witness the vignette outside of a major train station during "chunyun". It will floor you. As I've observed these scenes, I tended to alternate between fear and wonderment, punctuated by the fleeting thought of how the country actually keeps itself together. And just for a moment, it becomes crystal clear why queuing in China seems an utterly futile exercise.

Among this seeming chaos lies stamina and indefatigable spirits. Like this migrant woman, who apparently stood for 13 hours in the cold to secure a train ticket to see her daughter for the first time in five years. Her elation after receiving the precious tickets is heartwarming:

That video is from the Ministry of Tofu, a clever name for what appears to be a relatively new blog site dedicated to unearthing the enormous diversity and oddities of Chinese society. The editor-in-chief of the site describes herself as a Chinese national who was educated in the US. I wanted to highlight this because I liked her rebuttal (in Chinese, unfortunately) to what she says are criticisms of her blog for exposing the ugly side of China and embarrassing the motherland. I translated, very roughly, an excerpt of her address to her critics, most likely the "fenqing" or nationalist youth:

Some have said, "why can't you write anything positive about China?" But the key question I have is what would these people consider positive? When I talk about the old man who adopted an orphan, the little Nanjing girl who sells vegetables, a drifter on a train platform, elementary students amid a winter storm, or a young drifter who lives in a makeshift "eggshell dwelling"--all these are positive stories--including the anger expressed in the comments and netizens' sympathies. All of this in its entirety reflects Chinese people's strength and kindness. If people find these stories disgraceful and demeaning, it simply illustrates that they despise their own Chinese compatriots, that they are embarrassed of their own people. 

In fact, many Chinese gripe and complain about the absurdity of the government's policies and its corruption. Yet whenever they're in front of foreigners, they blow out their cheeks to make themselves look fatter -- always compelled to defend and speak positively of the government. When foreigners ask, "Your government has a lot of corruption, and the people have restricted freedoms, right?" They reply, "Nonsense! We live very freely and have many freedoms." When foreigners attempt to sympathize, "You can't get on a lot of websites because they're blocked, right?" They reply, "It doesn't matter, we don't really care to visit those websites anyway!" Isn't this a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome? They have been socialized, no?...

I say we need more ministries of tofu, or cilantro, or taro root, or other "sinified" vegetables. 

With that, happy Chinese new year. I think I'm hopping into the new year with some hotpot.
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Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.

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