Think your train is busy?
Spare a thought for those commuters in China, where nearly 400m rail passengers are expected to swamp the train network in the run-up to Chinese New Year this Friday.
In total, three billion trips are expected on roads, trains and planes, as the planet’s largest annual migration of people gets underway.
Around 1.5bn people around the world are expected to celebrate the coming Year of the Dog, including more than 500,000 here in the UK.
The Square Mile has already seen its share of celebrations and New Year parties. After all, we’re home to nearly 40 large Chinese financial institutions, including the Bank of China, which opened its office back in 1929 and celebrates its ninetieth anniversary next year.
In fact, the City of London Corporation has long valued China as a key stakeholder in the financial and professional services industry. A decade ago, we opened our representative offices in Beijing and Shanghai, building on work we were already doing.
Since then, we’ve worked hard to significantly boost Chinese investment in the City, and helped numerous UK companies expand their operations in China. Our efforts have also led to London becoming the largest renminbi offshore hub outside of Asia.
It therefore won’t surprise readers that Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s known across the east, is an annual fixture of the City Corporation calendar – and long may it remain so.
Many people who work in the Square Mile will return to China to celebrate. After all, New Year is traditionally a time for family reunions, and, not unlike most other festivals, a time to eat, drink and enjoy.
However, as China’s economy has developed, so has the way it celebrates. Red packets filled with money, or hongbao as they are known in Chinese, remain a traditional gift during the New Year period – yet the way they are given these days is anything but conventional.
Last year, over 46bn red packets were sent using the popular messaging app WeChat – a remarkable statistic, and 43 per cent up on the year before.
I’m sure 2018 will see even more money sent using the platform – a real litmus test of the impact and take up of fintech in China.
But it’s not just present giving where we are seeing innovation. This year, for the first time, facial recognition and mobile payments are being used by the Chinese railway authorities, in a bid to streamline the booking process and queues at stations.
This is in line with the explosive growth of mobile payments across the Chinese mainland, where, by some estimates, the use of cash in retail payments will fall to 30 per cent by 2020 – down from over 60 per cent 10 years ago.
But it’s not all about the money. Next weekend, as in recent years, London’s Trafalgar Square will hold a huge Chinese New Year celebration, complete with shows, parades and fireworks to ring in the Year of the Dog.
Whatever you are doing, let me wish you a very happy Lunar New Year: “Gong Xi Fa Cai! Gou Nian Da Ji!”.