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3 things that make Chinese New Year special

13:30, February 18, 2010

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The Year of the Ox has passed and the Year of the Tiger has officially begun. In the weeks running up to China’s most important holiday, millions of migrant workers left the cities to return home in what is the largest migration of humans on the planet – known as Chunyun.

Throughout the holiday and particularly on Spring Festival Eve (Chuxi) firecrackers and fireworks explode in the night (and day) sky, scaring away any evil spirits that dare to spoil the coming of a new year.

People of all faiths or no faiths cram into the nations temples over the festive period. They come to the temple fairs (Miaohui) to watch the performers and artisans, buy small toys and gifts, to entertain their children and to prey for a prosperous, happy year ahead.

As you would expect, the biggest holiday in China wouldn’t pass without some sort of mindboggling feat muscling its way into the record books… And that’s exactly what happens when China’s millions of migrant workers head home for the Spring Festival celebrations.

Migrant workers head home for Spring Festival

Because the Spring Festival is essentially a time for families, migrant workers will travel great distances by any means possible to be reunited with their loved ones. For many, they will have gone 1 year without seeing each other, so going home for New Year is a must.

Trains are packed and planes are jammed, and there are still thousands of workers who opt to travel by motorbike or car. There are even those who dare to cycle and walk great distances in order to be with there families at this time of year.

There is no doubt the number of people involved in this migration is the largest, and perhaps some Chinese migrant workers can claim to have walked or cycled the longest distance from work to their home as well!

Over the last few days in Beijing and know doubt in cities all over China, the skies have been alive with the sights and sounds of fireworks.

unrolling firecrackers

Announcing the arrival of the Year of the Tiger this Spring Festival Eve the crescendo of noise and color was certainly something to behold. The Beijing skyline was illuminated by an immeasurable amount of fireworks and firecrackers, while the thunderous noise drowned out the countless car alarms that had been set of by the vibrations.

Coming form the UK I am accustomed to a dose of fireworks on Bonfire night followed by another at New Year, but the sum of those two occasions is not comparable to the space of a few hours on Chinese New Year.

The intensity of the noise and the ferocity of the flashes is enough to frighten even the most full-hardy evil spirit. I doubt the original mythical New Year beast known as ‘Nian’ who once terrorized villages at this time of year would dare show his face in 2010 Beijing for fear of going deaf and blind!

Yet another age old tradition has stood the test of time in China, and continues to flourish. People of all ages come out to enjoy the spectacle, trying out the ever expanding range of fireworks to ring in the New Year.

If you thought clearing a few empty firework shells after Bonfire night was bad enough, after a few days of constant fireworks, large swathes of Beijing’s streets are covered in the red paper used to wrap the firecrackers, so spare a thought for China’s street cleaners.


China has many temples. And at this time of year many millions of Chinese citizens visit them. It is a testament to both the relevance of spirituality and belief in modern China, and the active part that temples play in contemporary Chinese society.

Beijing’s Dongyue Temple is just one of the typical temple fairs going on around the city at the moment, and for a mere 10 rmb you can sample all its delights.

As one of Beijing’s Daoist temples, Dongyue opens its doors to any and everyone who wants to pay their respects to the statues of ghosts, demons and deities that lie within. Incense fills the air as people prey and wish for happiness and prosperity for themselves and their families.

Red lockets with the years wishes are tied to railings, fortunes are delivered by a Doaist priest, and deities sit patiently in their halls listening to the prayers of many thousands who are looking for a good year.

Coupled with the spiritual aspects you would expect to find in a temple comes games, stalls and performances you wouldn’t. There are puppet shows, craft sellers, artists and calligraphers, there are games with prizes to be won, and shows to wow the crowds.

At temple stalls everything from snacks to souvenirs are sold. Some sell trinkets that will bring luck on the Year of the Tiger while others sell hand made candy tigers to the bustling crowds.

Entertainers perform traditional puppet shows that enthrall the children, while a man uses salt to proficiently write Chinese characters on the ground. In addition there are a number of fair ground style stalls that offer games and prizes for some good hands-on fun.

As with all the other temple fairs around Beijing and across the country this time of year Dongyue Temple has a large stage where shows are performed all day every day for a week.

This year’s performance included the changing face performance, balancing on chairs, diabolo’s and throwing and balancing heavy pottery. The performers entertain the crowds all day and visitors leave pleased with the spectacle.

Everyone knows the changing faces act is a trick, but how is it done? Balancing on chairs is a little dangerous... will he fall off? And how can a girl carry a huge pot containing a brave member of the audience on her feet? These are all questions with oblique answers that keep the audience entertained.

This kind of good old fashioned fun is what makes a Chinese New Year a very special must see festival. The fireworks and movement of people at this time of year will not be matched anywhere in the world adding to the uniqueness of the occasion.

If you only make it to China once in your lifetime, make sure it’s at Spring Festival.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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Gavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.


Li HongmeiLi Hongmei

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.

Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.