Spring Festival reunion tradition carries on in China
BEIJING -- Although Chinese people traditionally celebrate the start of a new lunar year during Spring Festival, the holiday serves more of an occasion to refresh family bond.
Chinese families are typically closely knit. Confucian principles call for children to remain close to their parents, even during adulthood.
But in modern China, more young people are working and settling down in cities far from home. Beijing had 7.7 million migrant residents as of the end of 2012, and many of them are the only children in their families.
Like millions of others, Cao Yang, a white-collar worker in Beijing, can only rely on the phone to connect with this family for most of the year. His home in east China's Jiangsu Province is 1,160 km away from Beijing.
After carefully weighing the choices on a gift list for his parents, Cao finally went to a shiny shopping mall, picking out a jacket for his father and a sweater for his mother.
The young man graduated from university and moved to Beijing last year, making this the first year that he has been able to earn enough cash to get them gifts.
"When I was a boy, my parents always bought me gifts for Spring Festival, although we didn't have much money then," Cao said.
"I want to give them something good. They are very frugal," he said. Cold wind at night made him a little bit stutter.
Cao said he seldom went shopping for himself as "they are usually expensive." The gifts cost him some 1,000 yuan (159 U.S. dollars), nearly one third of his monthly salary.
Cao said he hates traveling during Spring Festival, as it is usually very crowded. Trains are one of the most common modes of long-distance travel in China, and the train cars are almost always packed to the gills during the holiday.
"But it's Spring Festival. My parents are waiting for me," said Cao.
It is lucky for Cao and millions of others to get reunited with parents at home. But for a man surnamed Shi, sweet family reunion may not necessarily need a decent home.
Shi had his first child with his wife last year in Foshan, a city in south China's Guangdong Province, where they rent a 20-square-meter room near the place he works.
During Spring Festival, Shi got reunited with his parents, who traveled to Foshan from central China's Hubei province to see the child.
It was not an easy journey for the elderly couple to trek some 1,000 km during the world's largest home rush ahead of Spring Festival, especially with their brittle gift: a box of eggs.
In China, eggs are traditional gifts for women who give birth to babies. Although he told them repeatedly that supermarkets there sell everything, they insisted to bring 300 eggs their own hens laid.
"I had to stifle my tears when I met them at the station," he said.
The elderly couple wrapped these eggs carefully with thick newspaper in a carton to protect them from hours of bumpy coach and train.
Although the couple preferred to stay in their home province, "they still came just because we are here," Shi said.
For most people like Cao and Shi's parents, traveling home means family reunion. But for Xu Zhengguo, it was an opportunity not only to see their relatives, but also to reflect on themselves and seek self-improvement.
"I have a weak disposition and I'm sometimes indecisive," said Xu, who started a business with his friends in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang Province,after graduating from university in 2011.
In order to toughen himself up, Xu decided to do something crazy: traveling 660 km to his hometown Linyi, eastern Shandong Province, by switching buses from city to city along the journey.
"It is both impulsive and rational," he said in his Twitter-like microblog, in which he made the journey a "live show" by tweeting his little adventure.
Although Xu spent a week planning his trip and studying bus routes, he found that the actual route was quite different from what he'd planned using a map, forcing him to walk several kilometers between cities that don't have bus connections.
Reading books, listening to the radio or tweeting with his smartphone,Xu took a total of 48 buses over the course of a week before finally arriving in his hometown.
His mother welcomed him with tears and mild criticism when she learned about his difficult journey.
"It was really hard sometimes, but I never thought about giving up," Xu said.