CHINESE NEW YEAR
The Chinese New Year is indisputably China’s biggest holiday. The one in 2015 marked the beginning of the Chinese year 4712. Chinese New Year shifts somewhat over January and February. In 2011 it started on February 3. The entire holiday period is called “chunjie”, or spring festival (Chinese consider spring to be the beginning of the new year). The biggest of China's three "golden weeks," it lasts for three to 15 days, depending on how the holiday is defined, and has traditionally been regarded as the best time for family reunions and is characterized by long journeys home and clogged transportation routes.
Chinese New Year — as well as Tet (the three-day Vietnamese New Year) and Suhl (the three- to four-day Korean New Year festival) — may fall on any day between January 21 and February 19. It begins on the first new moon to occur after the sun enters the constellation of Aquarius. The 15th day of the new year — the first full moon of the year, the day of the Lantern Festival — officially marks the end of the celebrations. There are auspicious days for returning to work in the new year that vary according to dialect group and family custom
According to legend the Chinese New Year celebration began as a way to drive away the ferocious Nin monster, which regularly arrived at midnight on New Years, demanding a snack and could only be driven off by loud noises and lights like those made by firecrackers. For a while Chinese New Year was banned by the Communists. These days many people take off the 15 days between New Year’s Day and the Lantern Festival. Some use the holiday as an excuse to take an extended vacation of several weeks.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Chinese New Year; Wikipedia ; History of Chinese New Year history.com ; Chinese Calendar PaulNoll.com PaulNoll.com ; Wikipedia article on traditional holidays Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Calendar Wikipedia ; Chinese Astrology Chinatown Connection on Astrology Chinatown Connection ; Chinatown Connection on the Chinese Zodiac Chinatown Connection ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Astrology Wikipedia
Celebrating Chinese New Year
Bye to the old year Chinese New Year is celebrated with spring cleaning, feasts, fireworks and family gatherings. Food is piled up to symbolize abundance; people dress in nice clothes; traditional cakes are distributed among family members; fruits, candies and ornamental packages of tea are given to friends as gifts. Firecrackers are set off to ward off evil spirits. Most people take at least a week off from work and visit their home towns or villages. Everything is closed for at least three days (New Year’s Day and the two days afterwards) — even stores that normally stay open for 24 hours. Before and afterwards the roads, trains, and airports are packed with people trying to get home and back.
Lunar New Year celebrations in China are typically marked by travel back home, dumplings with family members and, on New Year’s Eve, the Spring Festival Gala on China Central Television. Since time immemorial Chinese New Year Festival has been the most important day in the year. In the old days it was about new clothes, sweets, and fireworks now it is digital gifts bland, over-produced television and smog-alter firework bans. China's Lunar New Year migration is often referred to as the largest movement of people anywhere, with 3.6 billion trips of all lengths by bus, plane and train expected to be made over the 40-day travel rush. Chinese burn incense as they pray for health and fortune. Setting off fireworks celebrates renewal and wards off evil spirits.
Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “The holiday is generally a time for feasting and visiting friends and relatives, along with making visits to Buddhist and Taoist temples, many of which hold fairs and stage performances. Mainland Chinese have traditionally tuned into the annual New Year's Eve variety show, which state broadcaster CCTV is hoping to reinforce this year with a cast of bigger-wattage stars overseen by popular film director Feng Xiaogang. Mainland China will virtually shut down for the next seven days. , and many residents of the polluted capital, Beijing, already have departed for holiday destinations. A continuing campaign against waste and corruption foreshadows more modest celebrations this year, while a crackdown on air pollution seems to be reining in the usual orgy of fireworks.” [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, January 30, 2014]
On the Spring Festival in Beijing in 2017, Associated Press reported: Chinese are lighting incense sticks and praying at temples to wish for an auspicious start to the Lunar New Year. Thousands visited Beijing’s major temples on the first day of the Year of the Rooster. Wearing heavy winter coats, they lit incense sticks and bowed as they prayed for good fortune and health. As many as 80,000 people were expected at the Lama Temple in central Beijing, state television reported. “Beijing’s sprawling spring festival temple fair opened at Ditan Park, where empty tree branches were festooned with red lanterns and traditional goods and foods were for sale. Other New Year’s traditions include the eating of dumplings in northern China and the lighting of fireworks. Beijing’s government called on Communist Party cadres and government staff not to set off firecrackers due to environmental concerns, but local media reported air pollution levels in Beijing and several other cities still shot up. [Source: Associated Press, January 28, 2017]
New Year is the the busiest time for fortune tellers, when people want to get a sense of what the change in the zodiac year will bring. “The disasters will be related to wind, that’s air pollution, which comes in with dirty air currents and affects everyone’s lives,” fortuneteller Dong Jialing told CCTV before the Year of the Sheep beginning in February 2015. In 2012, new Communist Party leader Xi Jinping visited with policemen, subway construction workers, taxi drivers and street cleaners in Beijing to thank them for their service. The same year Premier Wen Jiaobao made a point of spending the holiday eve with workers and the poor. In February 2012, before he stepped down, he celebrated the early part of the holiday with victims of earthquakes and landslides in western China. [Source: Li Nan, CCTV, February 15, 2015]
Chinese New Year Family Gathering in the 19th Century
In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”: “No feast-day in any Western land—the two previously mentioned not excepted—can at all compare with Chinese New Year, as regards powers of traction and attraction. We consider the gathering of families on these special occasions as theoretically desirable, and as practically useful. But we have this fatal disadvantage; our families divide and disperse, often to the ends of the earth, and a new home is soon made. Whole families cannot be transported long distances, especially at inclement seasons of the year, even if average dwellings would hold them all. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg; Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang,a village in Shandong]
“But in China, the family is already at home. It is only some of its male members who are absent, and they return to their ancestral abode, with the infallible instinct of the wild fowl to their southern haunts. If vast distances should make this physically impossible—as is the case with the countless Shan-hsi men scattered over the empire doing business as bankers, pawn-brokers, etc., or as happens with many from the northern provinces who go “outside the Great Wall,”—still the plan is to go home, perhaps one year in three, and the time selected is always at the close of the year.
“A cat in a strange garret, a bird with a broken wing, a fish out of water are not more restless and unhappy than the average Chinese who cannot go home at New Year time. In addition to his personal deprivations, he has the certainty of being ridiculed not only by the persons with whom he is obliged to stay, but also by the people of his own village when he does go home. The Chinese dread ridicule, even more than they dread the loss of a good meal, and unless the circumstances are altogether exceptional, one can depend upon it that every Chinese can only be kept away from his home at New Year by circumstances over which he has no control. There is, therefore, good ground for regarding reunion as a leading feature of a Chinese New Year.
“Whoever takes even a superficial view of the Chinese in their towns, cities and villages during the period from the first day of the first moon to the fifteenth of the same, will be struck with the display of new and bright-coloured garments. Every article of apparel, both of the men and of the women, and still more of the children, may be of any or all the colors of the rainbow. The Chinese do not seem to us to be conspicuous for what we call good taste, but rather at times to emulate the vagaries of the African savages, and never more so than at this time of holiday show. Combinations of colour which would cause Western ladies to shrug their shoulders, and to shiver with horror, appear to recommend themselves to the Chinese taste as the correct thing, and as good form. Bright green and blue, accompanied by deep scarlet, purple, lilac or orange, do not seem to “kill each other,” as our modistes would shudderingly affirm, but they convey such evident and such universal9 pleasure to wearers and spectators alike, that it becomes plain to the most prejudiced foreigner, that here, at least, his standards do not apply. In consideration of the stress which the Chinese lay upon this feature of their great anniversary, we should be justified in assuming fine clothes as a main characteristic of the occasion.
New Year in Imperial China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In the old days, officials would enter the imperial court on New Year's morning and pay their respects to and congratulate the emperor with "court congratulations." Among the people, friends and relatives express good wishes to each other, also known as "offering New Year joy." Back in the Qing Dynasty, the New Year holidays in the capital, Peking, was a time when shops along the streets would board up so that both young and old as well as men and women could all go out to greet the New Year, taking in the sights of various shows and performances. Many vendors would ply the streets selling firecrackers and such toys as Manchu peace drums, lanterns, and long glass trumpets, children playing and making the New Year even more festive. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]
Special flower arrangements were made to symbolize peace and prosperity. Painting such as "New Year's City in Peace," "Children Playing," and "Activities of the Twelve Months" represent images of joy in the Ch'ing imperial family that also reflect New Year's customs among the ruling Manchus. In particular, the painting entitled "Syzygy of the Sun, Moon, and the Five Planets" depicts the rare astronomical event of "the sun and moon together shining, the five planets gathered in the same quarters," which occurred on the first day of the first month of the Ch'ien-lung Emperor's 26th year (1761).
Officials petitioned this auspicious omen of the heavens to the Historiography Institute, and the court artist Hsü Yang (1712-after 1777) was then ordered to do a painting for imperial approval. Although singing the praises of virtuous imperial rule, this work also serves an important archival function. It depicts the old city walls and observatory as well as the Tung-an and Tung-hua Gates at the ends of the imperial city in Peking, condensing important landmarks of the Eastern District into one long handscroll. The painting shows throngs of people and carts bustling about New Year's Day along with street shops lined one after the other, illustrating a sense of order and prosperity in the capital at the height of the Ch'ing empire under the Ch'ien-lung Emperor.
“Syzygy of the Sun, Moon, and the Five Planets” by Hsü Yang (1712-after 1777, Qing Dynasty) is 48.9-x-1342.6 centimeter handscroll made with, ink and colors on paper. “On the first day of the first month in the Ch'ien-lung Emperor's 26th year (1761), the Directorate of the Imperial Observatory observed the astronomical phenomenon of the Sun and Moon both rising together and the Five Planets lined up, an event known as a syzygy. Officials therefore predicted it would be a year of peace throughout the land and of a bountiful harvest. Hsü Yang was then ordered to make a painting recording this rare and auspicious omen. Also a description of New Year's Day, civil and military officials are seen entering the court to congratulate the emperor, and people throughout the capital have gone out to greet the New Year. This handscroll depicts the observatory and various courtyard residences in detail as well as archways and gates of the city. There are festive scenes of people in various forms of clothing and transportation, and all sorts of shops and their arches, fully reflecting the appearance of life in Peking at the time.
Imperial Tusu Wine New Year Ritual
Tusu Wine was a ritual wine used by the Chinese Emperor. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““In the first period of the Chinese New Year, the Qing emperor Qianlong annually greeted the New Year by holding a “First Stroke” ceremony at the Eastern Warmth Chamber in the Hall of Mental Cultivation. He used the “Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability” to drink “tusu” New Year’s wine, the goblet symbolizing the firmness of political authority, and lit the “Jade Candlestick of Constant Harmony” to beseech favorable weather for the coming year. The emperor then took the “Brush Verdant for Ten Thousand Years” to write auspicious phrases of blessing for the New Year, also opening an almanac for the year to pray for peace and prosperity throughout the land. Although the Qianlong emperor specifically ordered the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability for the First Stroke cer-emony, the consumption of tusu wine had been a rite of the New Year passed down for many years. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/]
“Tusu wine is first mentioned in Ge Hong’s Prescriptions for Acute Diagnoses from the Eastern Jin dynasty, and medical texts through the ages record a similar kind of alcoholic beverage, indicating it was a type of medicinal wine. Its recipe differs among texts but generally includes seven or eight herbs in various proportions. Its preparation usually involved placing rhubarb and herbs in a silken sachet suspended at the bottom of a well on New Year’s Eve. Brought out on New Year’s Day, it was steeped to make an alcoholic drink. Everyone in the family (both young and old) would face east and then take a drink to avoid illness and pestilence for the year.
“On New Year’s Day, the whole family would gather and drink tusu wine in the hope that nobody, young and old alike, would encounter misfortune or illness in the coming year. A tradition passed down over the ages, it gradually became an important custom to welcome the New Year. The spe-cial order for drinking tusu wine would start with the youngest family member and then proceed to the oldest, bestowing New Year’s blessings for the young and long life for the old. Tusu wine thus became a symbol of the New Year and longevity, as seen in traditional poetry and painting.
“At this time of celebration for the New Year, a special exhibition has been prepared on the subject of tusu wine and divided into three sections: “Explaining Tusu, ” “Writings About Tusu, ” and “Drinking Tusu.” Rare books, painting, calligraphy, and antiquities from the Qing palaces now in the National Palace Museum collection have been selected from the Qianlong and Jiaqing reigns to present the allusions and symbolic importance associated with tusu wine as well as the beauty of Qing court wine vessels related to the consumption of tusu.
““Tusu, ” as a symbol of the Chinese New Year and longevity, is often found in traditional poetry and painting about sending out the old and greeting the new. An example in the Qing dynasty is a tran-scription of “‘Xinyou’ New Year’s Eve” from 1741 in Dong Gao’s album Harmonious Poetry Sending Off the Year, in which appears a phrase that mentions tusu. In celebration of the Qianlong Emperor’s eightieth birthday, Jin Jian’s album entitled Prime Notes on Longevity features a collec-tion of imperial lines for seals. One poem on “‘Yichou’ New Year’s Day” includes the line, “Tusu extends life in a jade goblet, ” reflecting the idea of longevity. In the Jiaqing reign, Dong Gao’s al-bums Recording Beauty in the New Year and Sending the Old and Welcoming Auspiciousness fea-tures tusu in two paintings — “Tusu Joyous Drink” and “Tusu of Longevity” — that convey the idea of the New Year and long life, respectively. Also, Yao Wenhan’s “Joyous Celebration for the New Year” is a painting that depicts the moment in the New Year when tusu wine is prepared for elders using the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability to offer blessings for longevity.
“The Qianlong emperor used the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability to drink the first cup of tusu wine for the New Year. In Qianlong’s imperial poetry there appears the line “Tusu extends life in a jade goblet” and another on tusu wine in a jade cup. They indicate that, in addition to the Gold Chalice of Eternal Stability, wine cups and goblets made of jade were used for drinking tusu wine during New Year’s banquets at the Qing court to symbolize longevity. Gold and jade vessels made by the Qing court during the Qianlong reign include high-stem cups, handled goblets and cup-and-saucer sets either refined or complex in form. Also, depending on the material, various kinds of decoration appear, such as enameling and carving. Reflecting the beauty and craftsmanship of court objects, audiences can feel the “wine overflowing tusu cups” in the traditional festivities of the Chinese New Year.
18th Century Paintings of Chinese New Year Festivities
“New Year's City in Peace” by Ting Kuan-p'eng (fl. ca. 1708-after 1770, Qing Dynasty) is a 30.3-x-233.5 centimeter handscroll made with ink and colors on silk that depicts festive scenes celebrating the New Year in the countryside, featuring firecrackers, peace drums, various goods, bird and fish merchants, and all kinds of figures and performers, such as peddlers with monkeys, fortune tellers, running boat dancers, and puppeteers. Scholars can be seen sitting beneath pine trees drinking tea and chatting. A large purple-sand teapot is on a red-lacquered tray and blue-and-white bowls are scattered throughout, the vessel with floral decor on a green ground and teapot filled with spring water. The shoulder baskets are filled with foods served in blue-and-white as well as dragon-pattern bowls and plates, all typical of court utensils used in the Ch'ien-lung era (1736-1795). Obviously, this so-called "street scene" is actually taking place at the imperial court with members of the court dressed up like commoners to imitate the outside world.
“Joyous Celebration at the New Year” by Yao Wen-han (1713-?, Qing Dynasty), a 82.4-x-55-centimeter hanging scroll, with ink and colors on paper, depicts a festive family reunion scene during the New Year's holidays. The host and hostess are shown seated solemnly in the main hall as children play gongs, blowpipes, and clappers. They also perform with puppets, set off firecrackers, and mill about the raucous garden setting. Family servants and attendants hold wine jugs or send snacks in the hall and corridor. Women in the building behind busily prepare the New Year's dinner as male servants in the distance work together to hang large lanterns. Pine branches and sesame stalks burn fragrantly in the brazier, while the interior is decorated with a large standing screen of the flowers from the four seasons. Peonies on the red lacquered table give the residence an added sense of auspicious prosperity for the New Year.
“Tapestry-Embroidery of Nine Goats Opening the New Year” is a 218-x-111.7-centimeters Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) hanging scroll, tapestry and embroidery that includes subjects dealing with auspicious numbers and themes, including "Three Princes" (homonym for"Three T'ai," signifying an auspicious New Year), "Nine Goats"(indicative of a lucky New Year), and the "Three Friends" (of winter — pine, plum blossom, and bamboo). Taken together, they emphasize that "the Nine Goats dispel the cold of winter, and spring returns with the New Year's start." This was a decorative type of picture displayed every year at the Ch'ing imperial court during the New Year. Ch'ing tapestry and embroidery is renowned for its fine weaving and numerous techniques. The tapestry technique of this scroll consists of a blue background and background scenery (colored auspicious clouds and rocks with water), the weaving for the figures, plants, and animals featuring several different tapestry and embroidery techniques. Areas for the plum blossoms, pine needles, and tree trunks are done as tapestry and embroidery on the patterning with touches of brushwork and color washes added. This is a typically decorative style of the Ch'ien-lung reign (1736-1795) with its pursuit of complexity and perfection. The composition is filled with rich designs and patterns, and the arrangement of colors fine and opulent, exuding a joyously festive appearance. This is a representative example combining tapestry, embroidery, and painting.
18th Century Painting of Chinese New Year Decorations
Describing 26.8-x-36.3-centimeter album leaves, made using is ink and colors on paper, called “Peace and Prosperity at the New Year” by Huang Yueh (1750-1841, Qing Dynasty), the National Palace Museum, Taipei says: “In the first leaf of this album, five village children wear colorful clothing as they beat "peace" drums and welcome the New Year. In the second leaf are flowers, some of which are raised in a greenhouse setting to make them bloom in winter for sale as decoration at the New Year. Here, a peddler is selling pine and narcissus while in the hallway is a servant with flowers. Adding to the natural decoration is a blooming plum tree in the courtyard. In the third leaf is a New Year's scene, in which the old is cast off and everything made anew. New Year's couplets and firecrackers add to the holiday spirit. In the fourth leaf friends exchange gifts and visit neighbors. Here, freshly hunted hare, deer, and pheasant as well as wine are being offered. In the fifth leaf is the tradition of sacrificial mutton and the Kitchen God. Tradition has it that the Kitchen God departs on the 24th day of the twelfth lunar month (just before the New Year) to visit the Jade Emperor and report on the homeowner. On this day, people would prepare lavish offerings and an escort as well as wine in order to appease the Kitchen God so that only good things are reported, thereby bringing good luck for the coming year. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]
Sacrificial mutton refers to the story of a person who once saw the Kitchen God and made a lavish offering of a sheep, resulting in great prosperity for the family and all the descendants. Consequently, offering sheep became a custom. The sixth leaf describes the tradition of hitting a clay ox to welcome the New Year. It was customary in the past to make an ox out of clay on New Year's Day. The local official in charge would whip the ox to represent the start of the new season. Inside the ox would be grain and clumps of earth, which people would take home as a blessing for fertile land and an abundant harvest. Here, we see people with the clay ox, people behind beating a gong, and villagers looking on. The seventh leaf represents the tradition of New Year's couplets, which are still an important at this time of the year. In ancient times, people would hang talismans of peach wood to avoid bad luck. Then, in the Five Dynasties period (907-960), a local ruler wrote a couplet (two lines of poetry) on a pair of peach wood talismans, and this eventually became the custom of calligraphing couplets on paper to paste on either side of one's front door. Here, we see an old man writing New Year's couplets and lucky characters. In the eighth leaf is the tradition of New Year's pictures. After cleaning one's home and buying flowers, one could also buy lucky pictures for the New Year to decorate the home. Here, we see all kinds of New Year pictures for sale, including the subjects of children playing (symbolizing prosperity and fertility), wealth-rank-longevity, peonies (the king of flowers), and images symbolic of the New Year. Two customers look over the selections as old and young alike make for a raucous scene.
The ninth leaf shows the custom of ornamental windows. After cleaning out the home for the New Year, one could also buy ornamental window cut outs as decoration. Here, we see such windows made from glass-like material being sold. In the tenth leaf is the Lantern Festival, which takes place two weeks after New Year's Day with a display of lanterns for everyone to view. Here, peddlers sell all kinds of lanterns as children surround them to choose the most beautiful one. The eleventh leaf represents a snowbound scene. It was believed that a heavy snowfall in the first lunar month would ensure plenty of water for the spring crops. Here, a snow drapes the scenery as peddlers sell horns and lanterns. The twelfth leaf and last one in the album reveals multicolored clouds, a symbol of good luck for bringing peace and prosperity for all in the coming year.
Chinese Lunar New Year in Asia and Around the World
New Year market in Dalian
Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout Asia: in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan; and among Vietnamese and Korean communities. In North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, the faithful leave flower offerings and bowed deeply before giant statues of national founder Kim Il Sung and his son and late leader Kim Jong Il. In Jakarta, Indonesia, where Chinese cultural observances had been suppressed before 1998, ethnic Chinese flocked to the city's oldest temple to pray for health and success. Similar activities are held among Chinese communities in Thailand, the U.S., Britain, Malaysia and other places large numbers of ethnic Chinese reside
Frances Lee wrote in Woman's Day: Lunar New Year is celebrated in Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia. Even within those countries, customs will vary from region to region, household to household. Regardless of where the celebration is taking place, a few common themes always emerge: reuniting with family, sharing delicious dishes with special meanings, and preparing for a new beginning. [Source: Frances Lee, Woman's Day, February 13, 2021]
According to Reuters: Festivities are held in cities from Paris to Phnom Penh, both as a celebration by their Chinese communities and to cater to the throngs of visitors arriving for sightseeing and shopping. Las Vegas has long made a point of marking the occasion, and hotels, shops and casinos were festooned with New Year greetings and decorations in auspicious red and gold to appeal to big-spending Chinese visitors. Associated Press reported in 2017: “Ethnic Chinese and others around the world also marked the holiday with celebrations and visits to temples. Large crowds gathered in Hong Kong and Malaysia. night. In Rio de Janeiro, crowds watched a dragon dance and a performance of tai chi in front of a picture of Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue. New York brought in the holiday with fireworks Thursday night over the Hudson River. And in Pyongyang, North Korea, a large crowd laid flowers in front of bronze statues of founding leader Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il. [Source: Associated Press, January 28, 2017]
Chinese New Year Fireworks
New Year at a temple
Fireworks are a key element of the of the New Year’s celebration. Lighting them and making noise is said to scare away evil spirits and attract the god of wealth. Many regard fireworks as the highlight of holiday season and say without them the holiday is boring. One man told the New York Times, otherwise “people do nothing apart from eating dumplings and watching TV.” See Entertainment
Firecrackers, Roman candles, noisemakers and cherry bombs are widely available in China and used in all kinds of celebrations and are particularly associated with Chinese New Year. China in where many of the world’s fireworks are made. Several hundred people are killed or injured by fireworks every year.
During the New Year holiday season in Beijing in 2007, accidents involving fireworks injured 714 people, six of them seriously, and started 253 fires. Many injuries were blamed on “improper use of fireworks.” Many accidents were blamed on shoddy products. The media reported one death related to fireworks. Another person had to have an eye removed. In 2006, accidental fires killed 63 people during the Lunar New Year season.
In February 2011, a fire set off by New Year fireworks destroyed a five-star hotel in Shenyang in Liaoning Province. Firefighters had trouble putting out the fire as the hotel building was 219 meters high and water shot from fire engines reached only 50 meters.
Chinese Ban on Fireworks
In February 2010, 19 people were killed in an explosion in southern Guangdong Province that was triggered by people setting off fireworks to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
A ban on fireworks in the inner city of Beijing was imposed in 1994 out of concerns about injuries, fires and noise. More than a quarter of a million police were put on the streets in Beijing on New Years Day as part of the effort to prevent fireworks-related accidents. The ban was not welcomed and was widely regarded as a way to undermine the festive nature of the holiday. One man told the New York Times, “When fireworks were banned it took the atmosphere out of it. All these things about safety and the environment — don’t worry about it. Give people some fun.”
The rules were widely ignored. During the last New Year’s Eve skyrockets and fire crackers were set off all night long. In the morning streets all over the city were littered with tattered paper and casings from spent fireworks.
The ban on fireworks in the inner city of Beijing was lifted in 2005. Most people were happy with the decision. The new rules allowed fireworks to be set off at specific times during the New Year holiday period and prohibited their use near schools, hospitals, historic buildings and bus stations. The rules also stated fireworks could not be launched from roof tops or balconies and said: “When you set off fireworks, do not throw them at people.”
Fewer New Year Fireworks: an Anti- Pollution Measure in Beijing
Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “The annual Lunar New Year fireworks barrage in Beijing was notably muted following government appeals to reduce the smoky celebrations after air pollution rose to near catastrophic levels over recent weeks. China's capital saw almost twice the number of smoggy days as usual in January, with levels of small particle air pollution going off the charts at times. That prompted calls for restraint, along with a reduction in the number of licensed fireworks sellers and the amount of fireworks on sale. The fusillades that began on Lunar New Year's eve on Saturday night started later than usual but still grew to furious intensity at midnight. They also died out earlier than usual on Sunday morning, and relatively few explosions were heard during the day. ."[Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, February 10, 2013]
“Sales of fireworks” on the five days before New Year “fell 37 percent over the same period last year, from 410,000 cartons to just 260,000, Xinhua reported, citing figures from the city government. The city authorized 1,337 fireworks stands this year, down from 1,429 last year, and allowed 750,000 cartons of fireworks to go on sale, down from 810,000. The Beijing Daily, the city government's official newspaper, carried appeals last week for residents to hold off on fireworks celebrations, saying not doing so would significantly worsen levels of PM2.5 particle pollution forecast to be in the hazardous zone. City environmental bureau readings showed levels well above 200 in most parts of the city, dangerous but still well below readings of more than 700 seen last month, when Beijing experienced 23 days of smog, up from 10 the previous January.”
Beijing permits fireworks displays over a 16-day period surrounding the Lunar New Year, but largely restricts them to suburban areas outside the densely populated city center. The fireworks display in 2012 “created a thick haze that sent 2.5 microgram pollution levels as high as 1,500.” Beijing also saw just 25 injuries and 83 fire emergencies related to fireworks in 2013, down almost 29 percent and 45 percent, respectively, from 2012.
New Year market
Chinese New Year in the Cell Phone-Smart Phone Era
Zeng Jing wrote in Asian Creative Transformations, “The digital evolution of New Year’s greetings extends back two decades, prior to the advent of the social media age. From the late 1990s and early 2000s SMS messaging took off in China, mainly thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones. Since then SMS text messages have been widely used for New Year’s greetings. During the 2009 Spring Festival for instance, SMS traffic accounted for 19 billion messages. [Source: Zeng Jing, Asian Creative Transformations, February 23, 2015 ~]
“In 2012, the launch of the Weibo (micro-blogging) service irrevocably changed the experience of Chinese New Year. The Spring Festival had gone online. Instead of the ‘interpersonal’ exchanges of text messages, New Year greetings moved to an open platform. During the 2013 festival Weibo recorded an average of 32,312 messages per second in the hours leading up to midnight. This broke Twitter’s world record of 25,088 tweets per second when Castle in the Sky launched in Japan. ~
“Weibo’s dominance was short lived however. In 2013, the instant-messaging service known as WeChat (weixin) became the market leader in China’s social media revolution. With 400+ million subscribers and the innovative feature of the virtual red-envelope, WeChat has both reconnected tradition and redefined the New Year’s experience. Over 1 billion red envelopes were exchanged on Chinese New Year’s Eve. The tradition of distributing gift money is now digitized on a massive scale. Of course, the invention of an instant messaging app is not the only reason. This phenomenal change in the pattern of New Year obligations is underpinned by a surge in China’s digital economy, technological convergence, and more importantly a mature user mentality: in other words these days people are more comfortable with digital money and they trust the platform. ~
“Nowadays, it is all about connections enabled by technologies. As I wrap my homemade dumplings for friends, I need my messaging app to send and receive free New Year greetings. I need video calls to ‘participate’ in my family’s dinner party. And I need Youtube to stream live video of the New Year Gala. All of these new media platforms connect overseas Chinese to their motherland. The virtual red envelope is definitely a highlight of my 2015 Lunar New Year. What will be next? I am looking forward to next year already.
Image Sources: 1) Hong Kong fireworks, Hong Kong tourism office; 2) Dalian market, Beifan; 3) Guangdong cakes, Wikipedia; 4) Others, Taiwan Tourism office ; Wiki Commons; Asia Obscura
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2021