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© Afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-31

Fireworks lit up the skies across Asia and millions of families gathered on Friday to celebrate the Year of the Horse, kicking off a week of celebrations including a performance by Sophie Marceau on China's annual televised gala.

More than a billion Chinese rang in the Lunar New Year, the country's most important holiday, with feasting on traditional dumplings and rice cakes and the exchanging of hongbao, red envelopes filled with money.

On Thursday, Beijing was a cacophany of sound as residents took to the streets to light firecrackers – traditionally believed to scare away evil spirits – into the wee hours of Friday.

But by morning, the capital was mostly quiet, as most of the migrant workers who comprise more than a third of its 20 million population had left the city to celebrate with family.

Some 245 million migrant workers across China filled planes, trains and buses to return to their hometowns for the holiday in what is the world's largest annual human migration.

Chinese communities across Asia also came together to celebrate, marking the holiday with flowers and offerings. Hong Kong was due to hold its massive fireworks display over Victoria Harbour on Saturday, the second day of the new year.

The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and Chinese folklore ascribes an animal to each year of the 12-year cycle.

The horse, which comes seventh in the cycle, is traditionally associated with loyalty and energy. The phrase for "at once" in Chinese literally means "on horseback" and some popular New Year cards this year have featured money, houses or cars on horseback, expressing the sender's wish for speedy good fortune for the receiver.

This year, however, is set to be a dramatic one, according to Hong Kong feng-shui masters, as it is the Year of the Wood Horse. Conflicts, disasters, record-high temperatures and an economic slowdown in Asia all lie in wait this year, celebrity feng-shui master Alion Yeo told AFP earlier this week.

State broadcaster CCTV aired its annual five-hour gala, a tradition dating back to 1983 and featuring comedians, dancers and singers. The hugely popular programme last year drew 750 million viewers in China alone, according to the broadcaster.

For 24 years it featured Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is a soprano singer with the rank of army general. She retired from the show shortly after her husband joined China's Politburo in 2007.

This year it featured French actress Marceau, who performed Edith Piaf's signature song, La Vie En Rose, in a duet with Chinese pop star Liu Huan.

But Chinese rocker Cui Jian, who inspired the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement and was in talks to perform on the show, did not feature. The Beijing News daily quoted his manager as saying he had refused to "change the words" of his songs.

In additional to giving traditional hongbao, or red envelopes, some Chinese this year have taken to sending Lunar New Year money by smartphone.

The popular mobile chat app WeChat, which has more than 600 million subscribers, this week introduced a new feature allowing users to send an electronic new year "envelope" of up to 200 yuan ($33), the China Daily reported.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-01-31


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