The Chinese New Year goes on despite the coronavirus. University of Rochester Anthropologist John Osburg says the occasion is about family, feasting, TV, and family stress.

The Chinese New Year goes on despite the coronavirus. University of Rochester Anthropologist John Osburg says the occasion is about family, feasting, TV, and family stress. The Chinese New Year goes on despite the coronavirus. University of Rochester Anthropologist John Osburg says the occasion is about family, feasting, TV, and family stress.

January 23, 20202 min read
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This is typically the busiest travel period in China—if not the world—as millions of people make their way home to celebrate the Chinese New Year, clogging highways, airports, and train stations in the process. As described by Forbes, the country goes into radio silence as more than 1.3 billion Chinese go on vacation at the same time.

“It’s been called the largest mammalian migration on the planet, and it always takes place at the Chinese New Year,” says John Osburg, a University of Rochester associate professor in the Department of Anthropology.


This year’s celebration may be less than typical, as the country is faced with an outbreak of coronavirus, which has forced the closure of Wuhan, a major port in China, and several other cities.


Osburg says, “While I’ve heard from friends in China who are cancelling travel plans, I also have friends who are mostly unconcerned with the threat of the virus.”



Osburg spent three years conducting ethnographic research in China, which culminated with his 2013 book, Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich (Stanford University Press). He has also written numerous articles related to China, on such topics as masculinity, consumerism, and state capitalism. His work has provided him the opportunity to observe and understand the week-long Chinese New Year—also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival—which begins this year on January 25. As Osburg explains, it’s a time for families to come together, which accounts for all the travel headaches. And typically, it’s children traveling to see their parents.


“One of the more important cultural values in China is filial piety—caring for your parents,” says Osburg. “In order for a lot of young people to make enough money to support themselves, their own families, and their parents, they have to leave their homes in the smaller towns to find better-paying work in big cities.”


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  • John  Osburg
    John Osburg Associate Professor of Anthropology

    Osburg is an expert on contemporary Chinese society and the changing economy in China

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