[Though tourists may gripe about the crowds, they are a welcome sight for Communist Party leaders who say that China must move to a more consumer-driven economy. The country’s economic growth has been fueled for many years by infrastructure investment, which officials say is economically and environmentally unsustainable.]
By Edward Wong
A record number of Chinese have hit the road this week for the National Day holiday,
including these tourists crossing a bridge at West Lake in Hangzhou,
Zhejiang Province. Credit Reuters
BEIJING — If there is ever a time when one truly understands what it feels like to live alongside 1.4 billion people in the world’s most populous nation, it is the annual Golden Week holiday in China.
The holiday always begins on Oct. 1, the celebration of the Communist founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. And this year, the crowds have gotten even more epic in scale, with hordes of travelers taking to the highways, the rails and the air. (Also, of course, to tourist camels in the Gobi, horses on the Tibetan Plateau and boats on the Yangtze River.)
People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, said 589 million people were expected to travel this week — almost twice the population of the United States.
Though tourists may gripe about the crowds, they are a welcome sight for Communist Party leaders who say that China must move to a more consumer-driven economy. The country’s economic growth has been fueled for many years by infrastructure investment, which officials say is economically and environmentally unsustainable.
But “sustainable” means different things to different people. Photographs of miles-long traffic jams on highways and oceans of people at the country’s top attractions are circulating online this week.
On Tuesday, the official Twitter account of People’s Daily posted one such photo from the Forbidden City, in Beijing. It said the palace had sold 20,000 tickets within two hours on Sunday, or 166 tickets a minute.
The newspaper also pointed out the miseries of being on the road. Early Tuesday, it reported via Facebook (which, like Twitter, is blocked in China) that 500 people had become stuck on Mount Hua overnight after heavy winds forced a cable car to stop operating.
One photograph online showed fog and mist enveloping the mountain, and others showed many elderly tourists and women and children gathered in a cave near the mountaintop cable car station. Mount Hua, or Huashan in Mandarin, is a sacred Taoist mountain in Shaanxi Province that is about 7,067 feet tall. The West Peak, where the cable car station is, has an altitude of 6,850 feet.
China Central Television, the main state television network, reported on Monday that 14.4 million people traveled by train on Saturday, the first day of the holiday week, an increase of 15 percent over the same time last year. More than 500 additional trains were put into service, it said.
Air passengers that day numbered 960,000, a 6.4 percent increase over 2015.
Driving was also popular because governments do not collect tolls on roads during this time, “which led to the inevitable gridlock on the country’s highways,” the television network said. The same report said traffic on a six-mile stretch of road in Shanghai ground to a halt.
Police officers were using drones to help monitor traffic conditions during the holiday, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. It quoted the Ministry of Public Security as saying that 214,000 officers were on the roads on Saturday. There were 55,000 cases of speeding violations, 1,100 cases of drunken driving and 3,100 cases of the illegal use of emergency lanes, the report said.
A photograph in a slide show on the website of Xinhua showed cheek-by-jowl crowds beneath an outdoor archway at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing.
Domestic tourism has been on the rise in China for years, with the Golden Week period generating more revenue for most tourism-related businesses than any other week of the year.
In 2015, Chinese tourists made four billion domestic trips, twice as many as in 2010, according to government data. That number is also much more than the 122 million trips they made abroad last year.
Beijing has been quiet outside of the most popular tourist attractions like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. On streets that are usually clogged on workdays, there are few cars. Many restaurants are closed.
One resident, Mu Shuhua, said he was staying in town this week. Outside it, he said, “there are too many people traveling.”
Follow Edward Wong on Twitter @comradewong.