The world's largest annual human migration, the Spring Festival travel rush, or Chunyun, is now approaching its peak. According to estimates, this year 2.99 billion trips will be made over the 40-day period, with 188 million of those trips to be made by passengers setting out from Guangdong.
A majority of those onboard the G552 train, bound for Xinyang East Station in Henan Province from the Guangzhou South Railway station on the 27th, were migrant workers, students and professionals heading back to their hometowns for the Spring Festival. While most plan to return to Guangzhou following the holiday, a minority expressed that they would not.
Zhou, 24, an assembly line worker at a factory in Guangzhou's Panyu district, has split feelings about heading home for the festival. Though excited to see her family and friends, Zhou said she would not be returning to the city following the break.
"Orders have slowed at our factory recently," Zhou told Xinhua. "My friends back home seem to be enjoying life more than I have been in the city."
Figures that were announced earlier show that China's economic growth slowed in 2018. As a result, Guangzhou has cut back on growth targets for 2019, reducing them to between 6 percent and 6.5 percent.
According to a government work report delivered by Ma Xingrui, governor of Guangdong, at the province's annual legislative session, GDP growth in Guangdong was recorded at 6.8 percent in 2018, down from 7.5 percent in 2017.
Guangdong's shift from "Made in Guangdong" to "Created in Guangdong" also means that the province is focusing its attention on attracting high-level talent rather than low-skilled migrant workers to keep manufacturing lines running.
"I don't really have much in mind for what I will do back in Xinyang," Zhou told Xinhua, "But for someone like me without a university education background, it is easier to do business or work with friends back home. In Guangzhou, I can only find basic work in factories."
However, not everyone aboard the train was turning their backs on Guangzhou.
Luo, 28, is currently studying for his Ph.D. degree in Guangzhou. He has been living in the city for 11 years and was headed back to Xinyang for the New Year.
"I already have a Guangzhou hukou. I will definitely be returning in the New Year to continue my studies," Luo said.
He also said that the Chunyun experience has improved since he first moved to Guangzhou years ago.
"I have witnessed 11 years of the Spring Festival travel rush," said Luo. "I used to travel back home on hard seats on 'green trains,' and it would take more than 10 hours. Now, as China has developed, I can take the high-speed train instead."
For Luo, Chunyun has also evolved in other ways. In the past, he would fill his suitcase with Guangdong-produced specialties to share with his friends back home, but now, "I don't need to carry all of these things with me, I can just send them back via express delivery. It is very convenient."
As for the rush home, Luo feels that it is part of what makes the Spring Festival special. "The journey home is what makes Spring Festival unique. It represents the emotions of Chinese people who are excited and anticipating arriving home for the New Year."
Train Conductor Wang Hao was also on board the train to Xinyang. Wang will work over the Chinese New Year period to make sure passengers arrive home safely. According to Wang, doing his part to keep the massive Chunyun engine running is worth the sacrifice of being away from his family over the holiday.
"I will be spending Chinese New Year on the train with my colleagues. It makes me happy to see others excited to go home. Our responsibility is to guarantee the safety of every passenger," Wang said. His Chinese New Year's wish is that "all of our passengers will listen to our safety directions and arrive home in one piece and on time."
Zhou also contemplates her New Year's wish. "I hope that I can use some of the skills that I have learned in Guangzhou back in my hometown. I also hope I can make up for lost time with my family," she said.
The Spring Festival travel rush will reach its peak over the coming days leading up to the Spring Festival, with a return peak estimated to commence on the 11th of February, one day after the week-long public holiday concludes.