Chinese welcome Year of the Snake in style

Across the country, the Chinese New Year was welcomed with celebrations through the night. Firecrackers, traditionally thought to ward off evil spirits, were set off in the streets of Beijing. 

Jason Lee/Reuters
Chinese artists perform the lion dance during the opening ceremony of the Spring Festival Temple Fair at Ditan Park (the Temple of Earth), in Beijing, February 9. The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, begins on February 10 and marks the start of the Year of the Snake, according to the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Snake with raucous celebrations on Saturday, setting off a cacophony of firecrackers in the streets and sending fireworks blazing into the sky to bring good fortune.

Celebrations will carry on into the early hours of Sunday, officially the first day of the Lunar New Year.

Residents of Beijing braved freezing temperatures to let off brightly coloured fireworks, with clouds of smoke in the air, red wrappings from firecrackers covering streets and explosions rattling windows.

A plea by the government to set off fewer fireworks to help deal with Beijing's notorious air pollution seemed to fall on deaf ears.

"Every year we set off fireworks and this year will be no different," said Lao Guo, 45, a convenience store worker.

"People won't not set them off because of pollution. It's the custom."

Firecrackers are believed to scare off evil spirits and entice the god of wealth to people's doorsteps once New Year's Day arrives.

China's cosmopolitan business hub, Shanghai, saw similar scenes, though not everyone had reason for cheer.

"Business now is very weak. It's related to the financial crisis," said Chen Yongliang, who used to run a street stall. "The U.S. and other major countries have seen their economies slide and we've gone with them."

Maintaining a tradition of leaders visiting ordinary folk at this time of year, Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, who takes over as president in March from Hu Jintao, met subway construction workers in Beijing ahead of the week-long holiday.

"Migrant workers have been the labour force behind China's reform and opening up ... so we must look after you properly," Xi said in comments carried on state television.

"I hope the construction firm has organised some new year entertainment for you so you can have a happy holiday," added Xi, who has tried to cultivate an easy-going, man-of-the-people image since becoming party boss in November.

People born in the year of the snake, including Xi, are believed to be thoughtful and stylish yet complex characters.

Practitioners of the ancient art of feng shui say the year ahead will see financial markets slither higher as optimism grows, though the risk of disasters and territorial disputes in Asia also looms.

The lunar new year is marked by the largest annual mass migration on earth, as hundreds of millions of migrant workers pack trains, buses, aircraft and boats to spend the festival with their families.

For many Chinese people, this is their only holiday of the year.

Almost half of Beijing's population of 20 million have left the city for the holiday, according to state media.

Taboos abound over this period. Crying on New Year's Day means you will cry for the rest of the year, and washing your hair signifies washing away good luck.

Woe betide those who clean on new year's day, for you will be sweeping away good fortune in the year ahead.

Additional reporting by Sally Huang and Beijing newsroom, and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Editing by Robert Birsel

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.