The spring migration

Two panoramas from spring festival travels


Two landscapes, courtesy of the iPhone's "panorama" function.

One is a stretching maize field in Anhui province, among China's poorest and most historic rural settings. To the left, one of the many graves that pepper the land, mounds of earth around which the newly budding crops circle respectfully. Straight ahead, almost too low to be visible, a hamlet of brick houses and dirty courtyards filled with waddling ducks and barking dogs. For 50 weeks of the year, the only human inhabitants are the very old and the very young. But this is the Chinese spring festival, the family is together again, and tonight there will be fireworks.

The second is a field of faces, as thousands of migrant workers who once farmed this land go back to the cities where they now work, after spending the new year at their old home. They are in a tent knocked up to contain queues for one of the substitute trains (临车) layed on to cope with the influx – what is sometimes breathless called the largest migration in human history. The red sign at the far end reads "Dear brother farmers, from all walks of life let's have a harmonious spring festival travel" (关爱农民兄弟 携社会各界共建和谐春运).


Tonight is the last day of the spring festival, and those farmer brothers that lingered will now be going back to their urban lives. I asked one of them, on the hard seat train from Fuyang to Shanghai, what his dreams or ideals (理想) were. "I have no dreams," he said, pausing to hack loudly and spit on the floor of the train. "Where there is money, that's my dream."

Your humble ant has also returned from his spring migration – three weeks travelling on the North Korean border, rural Anhui and hipster Shanghai – and there will be nuggets from those travels up here over the next few weeks. In the meantime, a happy year of the snake to you.