February 2, 2014 - Every winter, hundreds of millions of Chinese return home for the Spring Festival, the Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year (which this year lands on January 31).
The mass migration, known in Chinese as chunyun, is on track to reach an unprecedented scale in 2014. According to Lian Weiliang, the deputy head of China's National Development and Reform Commission, an estimated 3.62 billion trips will be made during the 40-day period surrounding the holiday, an increase of roughly 5.8 percent, or 200 million trips, compared with 2013.
Simply put, it is the largest annual human migration in the world.
Baidu, China's dominant search engine, has now made it possible to visualize this tremendous pilgrimage, unveiling a map that displays Spring Festival travel routes and their popularity over rolling eight-hour periods. To create the map, Baidu used location-based data from its mobile software products to track travelers during the 40-day period. As of August 2013, Baidu was receiving 3.5 billion requests per day for GPS location on its cellphone products, making it the largest source of location data in the People's Republic of China.
For migrant workers, many of whom face demanding jobs far from their hometowns, the Spring Festival presents a once-a-year opportunity to return home and reunite with their families.
"It's not always easy to afford train tickets, and the journey can be tedious and unpleasant," said Zhang Xuan, a 25-year-old graphic designer who is traveling from Beijing to her hometown in central China's Henan Province.