China’s 'motorcycle army' of migrant workers start their journey home
Updated 13:43, 26-Jan-2019
By Ge Yunfei
01:56

When we talk about "bikers," the first pictures that come to mind are a fleet of men wearing leather jackets riding their Harley-Davidsons.

But in China at this very special time of year, Chunyun, or the Spring Festival travel rush, bikers are the migrant workers carrying their luggage and families on their motorcycles heading for their hometowns.

"The motorcycle army" is one of the most iconic scenes of China's Chunyun. In south China's Guangdong Province, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers leave their factories, furniture stores and other jobs for home sweet home via motorbike. Some travel hundreds, even thousands of miles.

On the road, the crisp, chilly wind is constantly pounding on their faces, as they have to stay alert for passing cars. Obviously this is not the safest option to go home for migrant workers, or anyone.

But it's the cheapest and easiest way.

Guangdong Province is China's largest manufacturing base. This year, it's estimated that over 400,000 motorbikes will leave Guangdong for remote and small counties in neighboring provinces.

It's estimated that over 400,000 motorbikes will leave Guangdong for remote and small counties in neighboring provinces this year. /CGTN Photo

It's estimated that over 400,000 motorbikes will leave Guangdong for remote and small counties in neighboring provinces this year. /CGTN Photo

And more than 350 gasoline stations in Guangdong and other neighboring provinces will provide free petrol to those bikers.  

But fewer workers are riding bikes home. In the city of Zhaoqing, one of the largest transport hubs on the bikers' routes back home, around 260,000 motorcycle trips were made through the city last year, according to local authorities. But back in 2013, the peak number was over 1.1 million. 

Experts say there are three major reasons for the decline: rising salaries, the rapid expansion of high-speed railways and the increase of private cars. In the five years from 2013 to 2018, the annual per capita disposable income in China increased over 54 percent. The high-speed rail network nearly tripled to almost 30,000 kilometers. And more than 80 million private cars have been sold nationwide.

Experts say rising salaries, the rapid expansion of high-speed railways and the increase of private cars have lead to fewer migrant workers riding home. /CGTN Photo

Experts say rising salaries, the rapid expansion of high-speed railways and the increase of private cars have lead to fewer migrant workers riding home. /CGTN Photo

Many bikers said if they have a choice, they don't want their kids to follow their pattern. The motorcycle army may yet fade away faster than we expect.