Millions of Chinese, S-E Asians to celebrate Lunar New Year

BEIJING: People in China and across South-East Asia were getting ready on Thursday to welcome the Lunar New Year with celebrations ranging from street festivals to intimate family dinners. Residents of major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai were preparing for quieter holidays than in past years, after authorities banned fireworks due to pollution and safety concerns.
According to Chinese tradition, fireworks and firecrackers help scare off the past year’s monster, “guonian,” and usher in a lucky new year. The decision to ban them didn’t sit right with some Chinese.
“Lots of Beijingers, especially old people, are against it,” said Ma, a 37-year-old entrepreneur, who only wanted to give his last name. ‘‘My father-in-law is even considering trying to set off fireworks in secret to see if it’s really that strict.”
Nevertheless, by Thursday afternoon, downtown Beijing was completely quiet, unlike in previous years, when fireworks sounded day and night during the week-long holiday.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2018 will be the Year of the Earth Dog, following the Year of the Fire Rooster in 2017. The Earth Dog signifies conservatism, and fortune-tellers warn of bearish markets, natural disasters and international conflicts.
The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in China, and hundreds of millions of people travel to celebrate it with their families, making this the world’s largest annual human migration.
Authorities expect a total of almost 3 billion trips by car, train and aeroplane in the 40 days surrounding the holiday.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, families hold traditional dinners and watch a marathon televised gala. Children and youth receive red envelopes (“hongbao”) filled with money for good luck.
Families decorate their doors with red paper cut-outs of the word for luck, “fu,” as well as images of fish, bats and the animal assigned to the new year – in this case, the dog. The sides of doors are adorned with couplets of blessings.
More Chinese are also travelling abroad during the holidays, with about 6.5 million people having booked trips to foreign countries.
Tourism revenue is expected to reach 476 billion yuan ($76 billion) in the days surrounding the Chinese New Year, an increase of12.5 per cent over last year, according to the National Tourism Administration.
In Taipei, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday encouraged people to remain positive, a week after a powerful earthquake killed at least 17 people and injured hundreds more.
“We won’t fall in the wake of disasters because we unite,” Tsai said in a video of her Lunar New Year message. Tsai told residents in the coastal city of Hualien, which took the brunt of the devastating quake, that Taiwan supports them.
In Hualien, about 400 residents who were staying in shelters had been relocated to nearby hotels for the Lunar New Year holidays, state-run Central News Agency reported.
In Hong Kong, the Lunar New Year fireworks have been cancelled in light of a bus crash that killed 19 people on Saturday. — dpa