Fireworks, lion dances greet Year of the Rabbit

Asia rang in the Year of the Rabbit on Thursday with bursts of fireworks, colourful lion dances and prayers that the bunny will live up to its reputation for happiness and good fortune in 2011.

From Sydney to Singapore to Pyongyang, the Lunar New Year was marked by a thundering barrage of firecrackers, family feasts, musical performances - and rabbits galore.

In Beijing and Shanghai, as in cities and towns across China, fireworks lit up the sky at midnight as millions celebrated the arrival of the new year. The salvo rumbled on through the early hours of Thursday.

Fireworks are set off to ring in the year and ward off evil spirits but each year hundreds are reported hurt or killed in accidents across the nation of 1.3 billion people, and firefighters in tinder-dry Beijing were on high alert.

"We let off firecrackers to chase away the 'nian', a bad animal in Chinese legend. That way, it will not come and disturb you.... it's tradition," said Wang Kuang, one of many visiting the huge temple fair in Beijing's Ditan Park.

A five-star hotel in the northeastern city of Shenyang was gutted by fire early Thursday, in what police said was a blaze triggered by the fireworks, Xinhua news agency reported. No one was hurt.

Snow and chilly weather across much of China failed to dampen the festive cheer among an estimated 700 million people who had travelled home for the holiday or were on the move - an annual exodus that swamps the nation's transport system.

The holiday, which runs through next week, is the only time that many of the country's estimated 230 million migrant workers are able to visit their families.

Families typically gather for several days of feasting and partying, while youths receive cash gifts of red envelopes, or "hong bao". People also visit temples, burning incense and praying for health and wealth.

Amid public concerns about soaring food and housing prices, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in his New Year's message this week that the country's leaders would work to keep inflation in check and curb real estate speculation.

The Internet is driving a Chinese New Year rabbit-related spending frenzy, with thousands of online discounts offered for everything from alcohol to food and trips.

People are also rushing to buy bunnies as pets, but animal rights activists fear the cuddly creatures could suffer from neglect or be abandoned once the novelty has worn off.

The rabbit, occupying the fourth position in the Chinese zodiac, is closely linked to the moon and symbolises happiness and good fortune.

In Taiwan, those hoping to try their luck early in the new year are snapping up lottery tickets, with the jackpot, due to be unveiled on Friday, expected to reach Tw$1 billion (US$33 million) after eight consecutive rollovers.

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent Lunar New Year greetings, with Clinton pledging that Washington would "forge constructive relationships" throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

In Sydney, organisers were planning a vibrant street parade for Sunday night expected to draw 100,000, and dragon boat races in the city's Darling Harbour.

In South Korea, more than 31 million people, or 62 percent of the population, were expected to be on the move this week.

In the North, where the holiday was only restored in 1989, leader Kim Jong-Il attended a Lunar New Year concert symbolising "the indomitable heroic spirit" of the communist state's army and people, official media said Thursday.

Many - including brokerages - are banking on the sensitive rabbit to usher in a calm 12 months after the Year of the Tiger brought a spate of deadly natural disasters to China such as earthquakes and mudslides.

But the bunnies in a video cartoon that went viral on the Chinese Internet were anything but tranquil.

Their revolt against brutal tiger overlords - a thinly veiled swipe at China's communist rulers - was a huge hit before the video was yanked by online censors.

In Malaysia, flash floods have ruined the holiday mood, with key roads closed to traffic and the train service to Johor state and neighbouring Singapore cancelled.

While much of Asia celebrated the Year of the Rabbit, Vietnam struck a note of independence from the dominance of Chinese culture and marked the beginning of the Year of the Cat.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
News
people... and stop them from attacking people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?