Today marks Chinese Lunar New Year, the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It’s celebrated on the new moon of the first month in the lunar calendar, and it’s a time for families to come together for reunions and meals together.
This year is the Year of the Dragon, considered the luckiest amongst the 12 animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac and the only animal that is mythical.
I considered myself a lucky animal to live in San Francisco near Chinatown, which is the largest outside of Asia. My friend Claire threw a wonderful Chinese new year dinner party at her apartment in Russian Hill a couple of years ago after she had returned from a long work assignment in Hong Kong. During her time there, she picked up a certain je ne sais quoi in her flair for making Chinese food. It was delicious. She even sent us home with the traditional red envelopes which are handed out on occasion of the new year.
I felt the whole city energized when I walked down the hill to Chinatown for the festivities. The parade had a huge 200 foot long dragon. Really big. It was carried by dozens of men and women all dressed up for the holiday and many smiling children waiting for the firecrackers. Everything looked red.
What is a dragon, you say? Dragons are characterized as ambitious, risk takers, and as people who gravitate toward challenges. If left on their own and allowed to live by their own rules, dragons are usually successful. Dragons are also passionate in everything they do and while they frequently help others; dragons will rarely ask for help. The Year of the Dragon is from January 23, 2012 to February 9, 2013. Check out this Radio Free Asia video report in which Chinese couples are interviewed about their hopes for having a child in the auspicious year of the dragon:
Yet many in China do not have cause to celebrate. On this first day of the new year, Beijing police tightened controls over homeless petitioners from across the country living in sub-zero temperatures after eviction from their homes.
Tragically, Chinese police opened fire on Tibetan demonstrators today. Tibetan sources told RFA that at least six Tibetans may have been killed and an unknown number injured when security forces fired on protesters in China’s Sichuan province. The shooting sparked wider protests and has raised tensions in Tibetan-populated regions of China following a wave of self-immolation protests beginning in March 2011 against rule by Beijing. The protest began when Chinese authorities insisted that local Tibetans celebrate the Lunar New Year against the wishes of residents saddened by earlier protest deaths, said Lobsang Khyentse, an India-based Tibetan reporter citing contacts in the region.
In the week leading up to the new year, huge pressure on millions of migrant factory workers in coastal boomtowns across southern China to return home for the family-centered festival sparked strikes and protests. Thousands of workers at the Japan-invested Foster Electrical factory in the southwestern province of Guangxi protested the lack of an end-of-year bonus in the lead up to the festive season.
In 2009, director Lixin Fan made a brilliant movie about Chinese new year entitled Last Train Home. It is the story of a couple who embarks on a journey home for the festival along with 130 million other migrant workers, to reunite with their children and struggle for a future. Their unseen story plays out as China soars towards being a world superpower.
The mass exodus before Chinese new year is the world’s largest human migration, and Lixin Fan travelled with the couple, who have taken this annual journey for nearly two decades. Like many of China’s rural poor, the Zhangs left their native village of Huilong in Sichuan province and their newborn daughter to find work in Guangzhou in a garment factory for 16 years and see her only once a year during the holiday. This family’s story is told beautifully in the film and calls into question the costs associated with China’s growing economy. I recommend an evening at home with Chinese takeaway and this eye-opening film. You can catch a preview here:
I say so long for today with a traditional Chinese New Year greeting, Jíqìngyǒuyú. ”May your happiness be without limit.”