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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy