A man watches as fireworks light up the skyline of Shanghai in celebration of Chinese New Year. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Chinese have welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Snake
with raucous celebrations, 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
"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
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
"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
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
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.