Chinese New Year in China

Nian Huo copy

It’s time for a look at how China itself welcomes in the new year…

On the Go…

Most visibly busy these days are the national railway network. If you’re lucky, you’ve gotten a “good ticket” in the quieter parts of the train…

To imagine how it must be “on the rest of the train”, imagine Euston with delays and people cramming onto the next service to Watford and Tring, and you’ll have it.

It’s a little “quieter” at the airports — or is it indeed? The airports remain bursting with life — some of us have been so busy we’ve forgot to save those Christmassy greetings for another year. In any case, the message is very Chinese.

Those of us getting from A to B on the expanding national expressway (motorway) network would be hard-pressed seeing overhead gantries in “festive mode”, but lest you think they forgot about the festivities, most variable message displays are wishing you a Happy Chinese New Year. 

The city metro networks in an increasing number of cities are also donning on their festive costumes. In Shanghai, platform edge barriers show an extra dimension of festivity with a great many renditions in different fonts of the Chinese character for “fortune”.

The metro operators in Tianjin were a real Mensch a few years back, when they offered free travel on Chinese New Year’s Eve… with even their promotion written in a very Chinese fashion.

In the Cities…

Larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai become incredibly, even eerily, empty. The legal speed limit of 80 km/h on the Eastern 3rd Ring Road in Beijing is easily achieved over Spring Festival. Shops remain open (in contrast to London outside of Heathrow and Gatwick), and even they here they show they’re “festively open”…

One wouldn’t want to start counting how many of these lanterns were in this particular shopping centre in Shanghai — or by Qianmen, or the city’s central meridian Front Gate in Beijing….

A little easier for the eyes… and still festive in every way: a very Chinese garden, the Grand View Gardens in Beijing.

Just days before the holidays, locals stack up on nian huo (年货) — in essence gifts and food for the festive season.

Elements of Chinese New Year

The fish is often associated with Chinese New Year — the expression, “there are always extras to go around” (年年有余; indicative of improvements in living standards) sounds in Chinese close to the expression, “there will always be fish around the year (年年有鱼). Fish, in any case, make for a great delicacy, and are a sign that the family is better off this year than last year.

If you happen to find the Chinese character for fortune upside down — don’t even think of “correcting” it “right side up”! It is intentionally upside down so that it, in Chinese, sounds like “fortune has come” (福到).

Other festive elements include, of course, lanterns and “auspicious characters”. They’re either indoors…

…or if you’re lucky, they can even be seen — in the snow!…

Wondering where they came from? Street markets in many a Chinese town will have a huge selection. You might want to keep them even after the holidays — you’ve a bit of Chinese art in your hands…

The “community blackboard”, used often for local community messages and sometimes for political propaganda, shows its more “festive” elements here. This message, found in a Beijing hutong, reminds fellow residents to look after one other with care and to celebrate a happy Chinese new year.

Gardens copy

Around the Country

In the meantime, cities around China are increasingly showing they’re in for the holidays. It isn’t China if it isn’t dressed up for the Lunar New Year!

This is a picture of Beijing in 2008 as the city was gearing to celebrate both the Olympics and the Spring Festival.

“Official” buildings including those on the city’s main boulevard, Chang’an Avenue, show an equally festive display of the holiday season, with huge lanterns visible everywhere.

In the meantime, quadrangles in the city’s hutongs, in the Inner City, don on the Chinese national flag, and “auspicious characters” wishing both inhabitants and citizens alike a happy Chinese new year.

The roundabouts in China are another sight to behold — no two are alike, certainly when it comes to “roundabout art” over Spring Festival!

And whilst most have come to associate Chinese New Year as a festival for the arrival of “spring”, in “summer”-ish Hainan Island, they’re equally celebrating the Lunar New Year.

There’s a little bit of that inside the M25 as well — Wardour Street’s huge lantern is just the start of things. (You’ll also probably be reminded of the Tube’s more Beijing-ish tendencies if you try Exit 2 at Leicester Square tube station this time of the year… but the food, the shows, will still be worth the trip!)

Here’s a Happy New Year of the Sheep to all!

(Or ram, or goat — just take your pick…)

By David Feng

By day, David Feng is supposed to be honing in his research skills as Lecturer of Media and English at the Communication University of China, as well as Visiting Academic at the University of Westminster. At any other time, David is also supposed to be honing in his more China-related skills, as blogger and speaker. In between these two modes, David gets from A to B on the Beijing Subway, or now that he’s in London, on the Tube. David goes green because he can’t be bothered to drive in Beijing’s ghastly jams (even if he tries), and a discovery that “Tube + Rail” works in China made him ready to explore the rest of the country (which he did by rail across over 20 Chinese provinces, across distances not unlike Stockholm – Rome). In addition to research focused on media and in particular social media in China, he also runs Street Level China, a network of China-centric sites in rail travel, tech, and media, with its member sites featured on world media. Born in Beijing, he grew up in Switzerland, and is now in a part of Harrow he considers “tube + rail nirvana”.

Follow David on Twitter: @DavidFeng

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