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Beijing Street Voices
What Beijingers are saying about Chinese New Year

Name: Kou Yuan
Occupation: Private Trader
Age: 46
Like most Chinese people, on New Year's Eve (Friday February 4) I'll probably go to a restaurant or to somebody else's house.
I expect the Year of the Dragon to be a good one. The economic situation in China at the moment isn't bad, so everybody's daily life should be a bit better. The atmosphere of trade and commerce should improve too as people will hopefully be out on the streets spending money!

Name: Zhang Qinghui
Occupation: Homemaker
Age: 42
On Chinese New Year I will probably get together with my family, because everyone works for the same company and has been very busy. Mostly it's very hard for us all to meet up, so for New Year we try to get together and celebrate. According to Chinese tradition, this is a time for family.

Name: Shi Jiaojun
Occupation: CD-ROM peddler
Age: 22
I will be out working every day, even over Spring Festival because I have to earn money! Perhaps in the evening I will be able to go home and spend some time with my family.
I don't think the Year of the Dragon is particularly any more special than any other year. I still have to work every day to earn money whether it's the Year of the Dragon or not.

Name: Cindy Tan
(Toronto, Canada)
Occupation: Student at Beijing Language and Culture University.
Age: 22
I will travel to Hangzhou, 'the most beautiful city in China' according to Marco Polo, with a friend from university. Back home in Toronto, I went to banquets or some other event put on by the Chinese community. My parents are from Malaysia and they usually celebrate, although not in a really superstitious way. I think this should be a prosperous year, one in which people are full of hope and expectations.



Passing the New Year
Even without fireworks, Spring Festival - China's most important and traditional holiday - remains observed and cherished

The Gregorian calendar sent the world into over-hyped frenzy over the millennium earlier this month. And this year's Chinese lunar calendar will mark the Year of the Dragon, the most powerful animal symbol in the Chinese zodiac.

Where is Spring,where is Spring?
Spring hides in the laughter of children
Here are some red flowers
Here is a patch of green grass
And also a singing oriole
Di, li, li, li, li, li, li... Di, li, li, li, li, li, li...
- Where is Spring, popular Chinese children's song

Okay, so there are no red flowers in sight, the grass is hard as stale steamed bread (mantou), and any orioles with Beijing residence cards are still basking in the south. But trust us, Spring is on its way even if the subzero temperatures are less than convincing. Consider this: the start of Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year, falls on Saturday, February 5 this year, just a week away.

Chinese New Year is by far the most important holiday in the Middle Kingdom's calendar, followed by the Mid-Autumn Festival, National Day and the NBA Finals. Even though the Spring Festival celebration only lasts a few days, including New Year's Eve, the season traditionally lasts 15 days, truncated from the month-long celebration observed in traditional (pre-1949) times.

Coincidentally, or not, as the Gregorian calendar sent the world into over-hyped frenzy over the millennium earlier this month, the Chinese lunar calendar will mark the Year of the Dragon, the most powerful animal symbol in the Chinese zodiac. The only mythical creature among 12 signs, the dragon is revered by the Chinese for its magnificence and magical powers. In contrast to the fire-breathing menace of Western mythology, Chinese dragons are believed to be benevolent creatures who live in the heavens and command the wind, rain, thunder and lightning. Traditionally, the Year of the Dragon is seen as a period of great potential, auspicious events and dramatic change.

Passing the Year (guonian)

Endless legends surround the origins of the New Year festival. The word nián, which in modern Chinese means "year", originally referred to a brutal beast that terrorized the people of the Middle Kingdom just as they were preparing to celebrate the new year. In one version of the story, an immortal god persuaded the Nian to prey on other animals in the kingdom and leave the humans be. Not trusting the beast, however, the god instructed men and women to burn bamboo to keep the monster at bay. He also advised hanging red paper decorations in windows and doorways since red was the color the Nian feared most. The term guėnián was coined as a phrase to mean, "surviving the Nian monster." The popping sound of burning bamboo was later replicated each year with the cacophony of exploding firecrackers.

According to another legend, one day a scorned and embittered household deity journeyed to Heaven to ask the Jade Emperor to destroy the world. As the Jade Emperor pondered the situation, the other gods decided to visit Earth to warn humanity. Meanwhile, fearing the prospect of imminent destruction, earthlings stopped working and spent their last days throwing a great feast instead. The gala lasted several weeks until the other gods arrived. They reported back to the Emperor that the Earth was a place full of mirth and deserving of his mercy. Thus began the first New Year's celebration. To this day household gods are "sent away" to Heaven a week before the New Year so that in their absence everything can be cleaned, repaired and rearranged. Therefore, when the gods return they can witness a sparkling, jubilant world.

Ain't Superstition

In ancient times, the whole house had to be cleaned prior to New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve all cleaning supplies were put away and no one was allowed to clean on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune would be swept away. It was also believed that if one swept out dirt over the threshold, not only would you be sweeping away the family's fortune, but also one of your deceased family members. For this reason, all dirt and dust must be disposed of through the back door.

All debts should be paid by the time New Year rolls around and nothing should be loaned out on New Year's Day or you will be stuck lending money the rest of the year. Foul language and unlucky words, such as the word "four", which sounds similar to the word for death should be avoided. Also, one should refrain from talking and reminiscing about the previous year since it's best to look to the future.

Ushering in the New Year

In the days leading up to New Year's Day, people spend time visiting friends, socializing, and engaging in the age-old pastime of over-indulgence. The entire family usually gathers on New Year's Eve. For sons and daughters of all ages, this is ripe time to fulfill the Confucian principle of filial piety. Then, together, the family pays respects to ancestors, placing pictures of the deceased in the center of the house, surrounding them with burning incense, fruit, snacks and gifts.

Although the official holiday only lasts three days, many people take off a week or longer to travel and gather with friends and family. This is China's only three-day holiday, so unless you've booked a month or two in advance, this is definitely not the time to plan last-minute trips.

The massive meal eaten on New Year's Eve is perhaps the most significant single activity of the holiday. Everyone steps out in his or her best outfit and gathers for a feast of jiaozi, dumplings. In Chinese jiaozi literally means "sleep together and have sons." According to traditional belief, eating dumplings brings sons, wealth and prosperity. The ideal dumpling contains a combination of meat, vegetables and grain - all the ingredients necessary for health and happiness in the new year. Sometimes one of the jiaozi will have a coin or sweet tucked inside. Superstition has it that whoever finds it will receive good luck.

Late New Year's Eve people go out to visit friends and relatives to make sure they have survived the nian, and to extend wishes for good health and luck. Members of all generations pass the hours playing cards and mahjong, and telling increasingly far-fetched stories. One popular modern-day tradition is watching the New Year's Eve television special Chunjie Lianhuan Wanhui, a montage of Chinese folk songs, opera pieces and comedy skits.

It used to be that at midnight the sky would light up with fireworks and the air thickened with smoke and the deafening boom and crackle of firecrackers. Unfortunately - or fortunately for some - Beijing residents no longer enjoy this ear-splitting, finger-severing ritual ever since firecrackers were banned by the Beijing municipal government in 1993. However, the ban only applies to neighborhoods inside inner-city limits, which means all you have to do is travel outside the Fourth Ring Road to partake in pyrotechnic activities.

Then, either after New Year's Eve dinner, or very early New Year's Day , gift-exchanging begins. Children receive longevity money from adults called yasuiqian, which literally means "money to press down the years." The green and redbacks come in a small red envelope called a hongbao, and can be presented from any elder to someone younger.

Most adults exchange gifts such as fruit, sweets or liquor, rather than money. Throughout the day, and for several days afterward, people visit one another offering blessings and unloading loot they received from other people. There are generally believed to be only six degrees of separation between all cream cakes in China.

It all comes to an end on the fifteenth day, which falls on Saturday February 19 this year. This day is called yuanxiaojie, or the Lantern Festival. The denouement is marked by ice lantern displays throughout the city. Beijing's largest and most popular display is held at Beihai Park. On the last day, festival-goers treat themselves to a traditional dessert called tangyuan, white glutinous rice balls filled with a thick sweet lotus or sesame paste served in a bowl of boiling water. The pristine, global shape of the rice balls symbolizes reunion, reminding and memorializing one last time the importance of the New Year, before everyone returns to the busy, and increasingly separate, routines of everyday life.

Year of the Dragon Divinations

MOUSE: [Born in] 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984
Stop being mousy. It's time to tap into and unleash your sense of style and panache. Also expect plenty of opportunities to arise , but only if you remember to maintain an equal balance between work and play.

OX: 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985
This year, even more than others, it would be wise to avoid any bull and keep your head on straight. Although it appears that the new year will be an easy one with a bountiful harvest, it's important to keep that yoke on tight

TIGER: 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986,
Tigers, get ready to show off your stripes. With your vigor for life and creative force, you're sure to flourish this year. Whether you're starting new projects or finishing up old ones, expect to prosper under the Dragon's protective watch.

RABBIT: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987
Fulfillment, and yes, perhaps even fame, is heading your way this year, Rabbits. Seize the opportunity to hop discreetly onto the bandwagon, and perhaps even become a star. Remember, however, to make your decisions wisely, as your cozy rabbit hole may be safer than basking in the limelight.

DRAGON: 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988
It's your year, so enjoy and feel free to let that beautiful tail unfurl! Twelve years of on-and-off storms have passed. You have every right to roar and indulge yourself in the new year, Dragons. Plan carefully, think things through and then strike up the band and send yourself some flowers. Go somewhere warm with friends, open a bottle of champagne and—for once—celebrate yourself.

SNAKE: 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989
Snakes, according to mythology, are sacred descendants of dragons. As such, they tend to thrive in Dragon years. Typically quiet, slow and passive, Snakes get to show their true colors this year. Secretly fond of grandeur and pageantry, you will have plenty of chances to charm and mesmerize others over the coming months.

HORSE: 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990
Go forth into the crowd with your head held high this year. Ambitions will be realized, but only if you keep your wits about you. Seize all opportunities that come your way; your efforts will be recognized. And remember, projects don't always have to be perfect, just finished.

RAM: 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991
Goats gain ground during years of the Dragon. Jubilant New Year festivities tickle and stimulate your rampant imagination and lay the foundations for an exciting year. The Dragon urges you to join it in prosperity. Indulge yourself, but remember to look before you leap.

MONKEY: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992
The reigning Dragon can always use a helping paw from Monkeys. This year, in return for your hard work, get ready for a successful and positive journey with the Dragon watching over you. Your hot temper may get you into trouble however, so if you must, throw those temper tantrums when you're at home.

ROOSTER: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993
It's fine weather for Roosters all year long. The Dragon relies on you to be extra inventive and sensible. If you have been putting off big decisions that have been hanging over your head for some time, make them now. You will not regret it.

DOG: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994
This year will be an interesting journey for all you capable canines. You may not be at ease with the Dragon's showiness and wonder why he celebrates himself in such an arrogant manner. Though the Dragon's speeches seem trivial, they may just hold some surprising news for you. In other words, remember to always listen carefully to advice. Then, make your own decisions.

PIG: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995
This year's Dragon festivities may seem like much ado about nothing. Watch from a distance, but do watch with interest. All the pomp and circumstance is not as empty as it may seem.

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