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What and when is Chinese New Year?
Also known as Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival, the event sees Chinese people from around the world hold big family reunions, travel abroad, and give substantial gifts to those close to them.
However, as it is based on the lunar calendar (rather than the Gregorian one used by the West) the date of Chinese New Year differs annually – usually falling between 21 January and 20 February.
Each year is championed by one of 12 animals – one for each cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. This year, February will see the Rooster make way for the Year of the Dog.
While the public holiday is officially only seven days long, and the festival formally culminates on day 15, with an event known as the Lantern Festival, most Chinese take the majority (if not all) of their annual holiday over this time, meaning people can be off work from two weeks before the start of the event, and return weeks after it has ended. This means the country, and practically all of its industries, can shut down for three, possibily even four weeks overall.
The holiday spreads far outside mainland China, and its effects are notable in other countries with large Chinese populations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and the Philippines.
Chunyun: the world’s largest human migration
With people in China willing to search the length and breadth of the country for work, or even further afield by going abroad, Chinese New Year sparks the most gargantuan mass migration of people each year, as the vast majority of the country’s 1.4 billion strong population return home to reunite with their families.
That is just under a fifth of the world’s population travelling inside and outside China during chunyun – a 40-day period beginning 15 days before the start of the lunar year and ending 25 days after, running between 1 February and 12 March this year.
In 2017, about 2.8 billion trips were completed during Chinese New Year, and there really isn’t any other event that comes close to rivalling this figure. Americans complete about 46 million trips over the Thanksgiving holiday each year, while the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca attracts about 2 million Muslims each year.
While virtually all of China’s economy grinds to a halt, the few industries that go into overdrive in this period are transport, tourism, and retail. In the seven days from the start of the festival last year, the retail and catering industries in China saw an 11% rise in revenue from the prior year to 840 billion Chinese yen ($140 billion) – with marked lifts in sales for the leisure and entertainment sectors, and in sales of products like home appliances, digital products and jewellery.
Transport inside of China reaches its limits. Last year, 408 million passenger trips were completed in the seven-day period alone – 336 million by road, 52 million by train, 9.8 million by air, and 10.2 million by boat, and all those numbers were up from 2016. Both rail and air travel are forecast to increase about 10% this year.
With this year’s event closing in, China Railway Corporation has said that average page views on its website has reached 55.7 billion per day – climbing to 81.3 billion daily at its peak.