Taking the slow train before the Spring Festival

Matthew Chitwood, a researcher of rural issues in China and occasional SupChina contributor, has written in the American Interest about his experience taking a 36-hour train ride with several migrant worker friends:

There is an artistic genre of sorts that portrays the real life drama of chunyun, what Chinese call the spring migration. Books and films depict sleepless multitudes at train stations, travelers desperately clambering through train windows to get a seat, and disheveled workers forced to stand for days-long journeys, all to be reunited with their families, to see their children they had to leave behind, and to get home. Last year, I was living in a remote village in southwestern China to research rural issues and decided to have my own “authentic chunyun experience.” I called Lü Baohong (pronounced bau-hoh-ng), my neighbor in the village, who was in eastern China working construction. “I want to take the train with you,” I told him, inviting myself along. “OK,” he said, a man of few words.

This year, only 81 trains still ran on the slow tracks for chunyun. The vast majority of the country has instead been able to take advantage of the growing high-speed rail system, or fly home for the holidays.

The article is a joyful and enlightening read — take a look.

—Lucas Niewenhuis