Golden Week in China: the incredible numbers behind largest human migration in history

Twice a year China sees a mass migration of its citizens as it celebrates Golden Week. With the next holiday starting on Monday, we look at the staggering figures involved when half the country travels at the same time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 7:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 7:17pm

There are two Golden Weeks: one for Chinese New Year in January or February, and National Day which starts around October 1. There used to be a third Golden Week for Labour Day on May 1, but that was cut back to one day plus the weekend in 2007.

The first Golden Week was in October 1999. It was created by the Chinese government to commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, with the idea of expanding domestic tourism, allowing long-distance family reunions and improving the national standard of living.

It’s a sell-out: high-speed rail seats snapped up for first day of ‘Golden Week’

In 1999, an estimated 28 million people travelled for the first Golden Week. In October 2017, 705 million people travelled around China and spent 583.6 billion yuan (US$85 billion) from October 1 to 8, according to the China National Tourism Administration. (Usually the holiday runs from October 1 to 7 but last year it was extended by a day as it coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival.)

There have been attempts to stop Golden Weeks because of the disruption to the country’s local and international businesses.

Hundreds of millions of people travel by rail and car. Some estimates say half the country is on the move. There were 15.03 million rail trips made on the first day of last year’s October Golden Week, October 1, and 12.36 million on Friday October 6, according to the China Railway Corporation.

China’s Ministry of Transportation reported that national toll motorways (which are toll-free for the holiday) recorded 335 million users during the October holiday last year. The worst affected motorways were in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces.

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Most coach services were suspended from Hong Kong to Guangzhou after heavy congestion on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen expressway delayed traffic for up to 10 hours. The longest traffic jam was 49.73km (31 miles) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Popular spots include the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, West Lake in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, Shanghai, and Crescent Lake and the Singing Sands Dune in Gansu province.

A total of 12.95 million passengers travelled on Chinese airlines during last October’s Golden Week, a 14.6 per cent increase on the same period in 2016. Six million Chinese travelled overseas to 1,155 cities in 88 countries or regions during the eight days. Visitors to Hong Kong increased by 9.4 per cent on the first day of the holiday last year to more than 200,000.