As hundreds of millions in China flock home to celebrate the Year of the Sheep, the world's biggest human migration places extraordinary pressure on roads and railways -- but technology is offering new ways to find a route home.
Chinese tradition requires people to gather at their family home before the Lunar New Year begins -- on February 19 this year -- with authorities expecting more than 2.8 billion trips to be taken over the festive period.
Rail is one of the favoured ways to travel and while historically there have been endless queues at the ticket windows, China's official train booking website 12306.cn is helping to relieve congestion in stations and kiosks.
But with such huge demand users say it can be still be an exercise in hair-tearing frustration. Posters on social media say the booking website is "more difficult to access than the Diaoyu Islands" -- the uninhabited East China Sea archipelago disputed between Beijing and Tokyo, which calls them the Senkakus.
There are, however, new tactics in the battle.
Kelly Gan, a 27-year-old accountant, explained: "I was using a program that refreshes the page every five seconds to grab a spot as soon as it was available on 12306.cn. I basically did it all day long, from when I woke up until I slept."
Passengers wait to board a train at Beijing West Railway Station (AFP Photo/Greg Baker)
She finally managed to get her ticket from Shanghai to Chengdu, a journey of more than 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) and 39 hours. It cost her 450 yuan ($72) for a "hard sleeper" -- a bed and mattress that are a far more comfortable option than the firm bench most passengers will have to endure.
- 1,000 tickets a second -
Chinese train tickets can only be bought a maximum of 60 days before departure, triggering a scramble.
All tickets are sold in the first few minutes after they become available, and purchases for this year's festivities peaked on December 19, with 12306.cn at one point selling 1,032 tickets every second.
The next best opportunity to buy is 15 days before departure, the last date that people can secure a full refund for tickets if they are unable to use them.
Rail is one of the favoured ways to travel in China (AFP Photo/Greg Baker)
Vast numbers of people initially buy tickets that are not exactly what they want, in order to have some way to get home, and then seek better alternatives.
At Shanghai railway station, more than 7,000 tickets were being returned each day, reports said in late January.
The program Gan used to secure a returned ticket was an open-source one made available for free by a lone independent developer, but major Chinese internet firms have also waded into the fray.
Chinese search giant Baidu developed software to speed up the booking process and avoid losing a ticket between booking and payment, one of the most frustrating user experiences.
The company says 18 million people have installed it, and bought 28 million tickets between them.
Web browser LieBao offers a pre-booking function, allowing users to select a ticket beforehand and sending an automatic request as soon as booking officially opens.
- Digital divide -
Equality of the people may be a founding principle of communism, but it does not exist in the rat race of Lunar New Year ticket purchases.
Instead runners come in two divisions: the Internet users who have ways to handle the booking rush, and the technologically illiterate, often poor migrant workers.
A maid in Beijing, Guo Dengxiu is one of the hundreds of millions of migrant workers who have left the countryside during China's economic rise to seek work in the cities.
But she does not know how to use online tools, and failed to secure the ticket to return to her home in the Anhui province, 1,000 kilometres south of the capital.
"My son bought me a standing ticket. If I do not find anything else, I'll do the 15-hour trip without a seat or on a folding stool," she told AFP. "I have to be home for the New Year!"
The media here only knows how to pick on China to make China look bad. People here can hardly imagine the scale of this human migration. If this is in the US, I not sure if the American system would work or handle the situation any better. China is working here to improve its system. I am sure next year will be better than this year. By the way, the ObamaCare online register system was down and had so much trouble at the beginning and the number of people online was much much smaller than the one in China. American health system website and Sony Studio website were hacked. So American computer system sucks and unstable. I try to book my airline ticket from Air Canada website and was no better than what people experienced on China's railway website. How come I have not hear complain or picked on by the media?
Pedo Rabbi Loves Sucking Boys And Girls
China needs to somehow stagger the holidays! The system obviously can't handle a migration of a billion people in 1-2 week's time. It would be economically unviable if China is simply to just increase the number of trains.
Barack Hussein Obama Is A Jack Off
I think the system is quite efficient in China and their trains run great. Obviously the US does not have a good rail system because everyone has cars so none gets developed. But in China their leadership has done a great job of bringing in the foreign companies to build China's rail system and provide transportation for so many peasant farmers and laborers. You have to remember that the average salary in China is $6,500 per year so most people cannot afford cars so they have put a good rail system in place. And great job to the German companies that designed China's systems.
The rise from a 3rd World nation to the largest economic power on earth has had its glitches, but the fact that China can move one billion people across a country larger than the US is still amazing.
i think western media needs to focus more on their own domestic internal problems, which are rampant and causing mass gun murders everywhere in the country...
starting with the USA.
AFP tries so hard to demonise China, this time using 'war' and 'China' in the same sentence.
Why are these communists celebrating a superstitious foolish holiday instead of saving up for the May Day parade? These Chinese have grown fat and soft, they should undergo a long march to reform their thoughts. Ungrateful capitalists playing at bourgeois swine...
Chinese tradition requires people to gather at their family home before the Lunar New Year begins -- on February 19 this year -- with authorities expecting more than 2.8 billion trips to be taken over the festive period. This is got to be a mistake, 2.8 Billion trips???? Total Population is 1.3 Billion.
JamesFickleMan The Filipino Clown
USA next cyber war, the battle for thanksgiving flight tickets! What a stupid article in China bashing!
Can you imagine the migration for the Spring Festival, at which the amount people of 2.8 billion are traveling in just a 2 week period in China? It is like the entire population from 5 to 75 year old in the US to travel around of average 400 miles 10 times in 2 weeks.
China huge population is what gives it the labor force to produce cheap labor but also what will keep it from becoming a truly prosperous nation.
Snowden exposed NSA broke into China's Hawei, Hsinghaw University and military complex. But American lawmakers - soulless lawyers must make accusations. Just like they put the blame on MH17 on first days and later retracted that, as Kerry said, it was based on American's Social Media - the most widely recgonized global liars or lying news media
Red China super power to the world. Xi Jinpíng's corruption is right here
Wish everybody, communists, capitalists and everybody else, has a healthy and prosperous Year of the Goat.
The no seat tickets are the worst. Especially since you still have to pay the same price as if you had a seat. The longest ride I ever took without a seat was 4 hours, which was okay, but I know people who've had to go 20+ without a seat.
Best of luck everyone. I've got my flight booked on the 18th, so I'll see you all in the airport.
Year of the Sheep? I'm betting it all on the St. Louis Rams this season.
"more than 2.8 billion trips to be taken over the festive period."
Wow amazing! No country on earth except China can handle this mass movement. Truly amazing.
Long Duck Wong
"Media here is trying to distract people from paying attention to China's advanced railway system" - Yes, it is a testament to JAPANESE technology, though those 60 CRH2A sets the Chinese government bought from Kawasaki Heavy must have cost an arm and a leg.
"She finally managed to get her ticket from Shanghai to Chengdu, a journey of more than 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) and 39 hours. It cost her 450 yuan ($72) for a "hard sleeper" -- a bed and mattress that are a far more comfortable option than the firm bench most passengers will have to endure"
WOW! If I can find a deal like this in this country, I 'll travel anywhere during the holiday season.
The Chinese can't question why everyone takes a vacation on the same day. They do what they're told, lest they wind up in prison making shoes for Walmart or something.
Happy Chinese New Year. Have a safe trip home! It is s big day in Asian culture.
True, just like thanksgive in US, if the whole population as size of China iare traveling within that 2 week of 2/19, getting tickets will be challenge for any nation.?
AFP/ yahoo using "China's latest cyber war" , "the battle"is totally misleading title with bias, hatred and out of.
joesmiththegreatone 1 day ago?
The media here has been whining about the Chinese railway system every year during this time of the year despite the situation of the Chinese railway system is improving every year. Instead of saying something positive about the improvement of the Chinese railway system, the media purposely trying to pick bones out of eggs, just to use every opportunity to discredit China. There are much more serious domestic issue in the US that the media can concentrate and deal with. There are more serious problems and out of dated public transportation systems in LA, Boston and some other big cities in the US. The improvement in public transportation and infrastructure in China is much better than that in the US. The Chinese media has never pick on the US for its problems in this regards.
You are a perfect Walmart material !
Happy Year of the Sheep to all my Chinese friends out there! Zhu nimen xin nian kuai le! Gongxi facai! :)
Despite of the chaos people experienced in China during CNY, I am sure the situation would much much worse if same population in the US.
I sure would like to see their fireworks display
This is literally every man for himself.
I've been working in Beijing for six years now and I'm always surprised that everyone I know still manages to get tickets to get to their home town, you wouldn't think it would be possible (well, I guess it isn't for many people if the train is the only option they're going to take).
They are stealing from themselves, problem is theirs, and theirs alone.
What is more important is we do need plenty of high speed bullet trains all over the country!!!
I remember Wenzhou train crashed few years ago, the China authority so quickly and trying to bury the train sections. That is corruption. Now China invests billions of dollars for its military to support their invasion in S-China sea/ASEAN community and found out too many high ranks Army general are digging the money into their own bank/home. That is corruption
Imagine what the trains smell like? oh boy ! lol