Spring Festival travel rush in China, or Chunyun, is the largest annual human migration on earth, as people rush home for family reunions or off on other travel adventures.

How people are traveling has mirrored changes in the country over the past 40 years.

CGTN’s Cheng He reports.

Three billion – that’s the number of trips Chinese people are expected to make during the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush. That’s nearly 30 times the trips taken in 1979, when the Chinese set a record of 100 million trips.

Spring Festival is the traditional time for family reunions in China. But, back in the days of the planned economy, most people couldn’t afford to travel. It was a time of living locally.

But when China adopted reform and its opening up policy in 1978 – that began to change. Market forces brought higher wages and opportunities that encouraged workers to spread out across the country. Farmers left the fields for city jobs in industry People from small towns set out to make their mark in big cities.

But getting a train ticket home during Spring Festival was still tough at the time, due to limited infrastructure. Lines at train station ticket counters could extend for several kilometers. Train Operator Zhou Shuqiang started his career 24 years ago. And he still remembers the disappointment on the faces of travelers who had to be turned away.

“Back then, most of the trains were the old green ones without air conditioners. The trains were slow so we couldn’t put on more daily train services. As a railway employee, when I saw the dense crowd waiting anxiously in the station hoping to get home, I wanted to take all of them on the train but our hands were tied,” Zhou Shuqiang said.

Over the years, China revolutionized its train service – and became a world-leader in high-speed rail.

“In the past the train services were limited, it was almost impossible to get home by one train trip. Now I can get home right off this train. This rail service has greatly improved the transportation for rural people like us,” said one passenger.

“Back in 1997 or 1998, the conditions were bad. Now it has improved greatly, the carriages are clean, the conductors are kind, the services, such as hot water, toilet, all of them are good,” said another passenger.

Getting a ticket is still not easy during the travel rush. But lines are shorter- with more than 60 percent of tickets now purchased online.

Even more people are choosing to drive to their holiday destinations, taking advantage of China’s greatly improved roadways. Since building its first expressway in 1988 – China has grown its highway network to cover 136-thousand kilometers, serving 97 percent of cities with populations larger than 200,000. More than 80 percent of all Spring Festival trips are expected to be made by car or bus.