China's new year: fireworks and 'eight mutuals' for marriage

The Year of the Cock has given way to the Year of the Dog.

In China, the solar calendar is for official events, but most of the great traditional holidays still follow the waxing and waning of the moon. And the greatest holiday of them all is New Year's Day, or the spring festival, as the government calls it to distinguish it from the solar new year.

In every neighborhood throughout the city, special firecracker stalls did a brisk business. On New Year's Eve Jan. 24, firecrackers started exploding all over Peking as soon as darkness fell and grew louder as midnight approached.

''This is the time of year to sweep out bad old habits, to march resolutely forward into the new era,'' said a Chinese journalist at a reception for foreign colleagues. ''We hope your articles will help us to get rid of the old and reach out for the new.''

Among old habits the government and party leadership have persistently sought to get rid of is extravagant wedding ceremonies, and the whole idea of marriage not so much by the free will of the partners concerned as by parental pressures and considerations of money.

The Communist Party's propaganda department and the Women's Federation have just held a joint meeting to appeal once more for the three no's: ''No parental interference, no extravagant ceremonies, no infractions of socialist morality.''

Many of China's top leaders, including Mao Tse-tung, have been less than exemplary in their own married lives. But there is one couple that has been universally loved and looked up to as a model of conjugal fidelity - the late Premier Chou En-lai and his wife Deng Yingchao, who is still active on the Communist Party Politburo.

Friends of the Chous say the secret of their bliss lay in eight ''mutuals,'' which husband and wife vowed to each other: mutual respect, mutual love, mutual trust, mutual encouragement, mutual help, mutual tolerance, mutual understanding , mutual comfort. Not a bad list for any couple's New Year resolutions.

On the entertainment front, one can choose not only colorful Peking opera and a host of new films, but even Carmen, Bizet's masterpiece, which apparently came under fire from Communist Party conservatives because of the un-uplifting manner in which it portrays workers and soldiers. The opera is still playing to crowded houses, however, at least until the beginning of February.

Among the films to be soon released is one dealing with the Sian incident of 1936, in which Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped by troops demanding that he should join hands with the communists to fight the invading Japanese imperialists.

At a time when Peking is proposing unification talks with Chiang Kai-shek's son Chiang Ching-kuo on Taiwan, some party leaders are said to be nervous that the film may offend the younger Chiang. But while the film cannot really portray the Generalissimo in a flattering light, almost everyone else in it, notably Madame Chiang Kai-shek and her brother T. V. Soong, is treated with sympathy and respect.

The lunar New Year is, of course, also celebrated in Taiwan, and in every Chinese colony around the world, as well as in Vietnam, where it is known as Tet.

Here in Peking, the Vietnamese ambassador has denounced what he called continuing hostile actions by China along the Vietnamese border and announced a unilateral 10-day Tet truce.

As for Taiwan, there is still no hint of any response to Peking's peace proposals. Taiwanese can meet mainland relatives in Hong Kong, but the island regime still refuses to countenance direct person-to-person contact with the mainland.

Will this attitude change during the Year of the Dog? Divided families can only speculate, and hope.

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