The three Chinese New Year I spent in Hangzhou (three hours’ drive from
Shanghai) have now muddled into one big celebratory memory: into one giant steamed bun, baozi: into one enormous good luck lantern. Chinese New Year, for me, was always a kind of alien Christmas with its red and gold, music and food, cards and gifts. The place in my mind where I most vividly experience the festivities are the streets surrounding Xihu, West Lake near the centre of the town. There, the crisp rattle of fireworks becomes a part of the air that Hangzhou breathes and the booming and cracking doesn’t pause until the two weeks  are over. My most vivid impressions…

Ironically, my most vivid impressions of Chinese New Year…

are from a French supermarket, Carrefour, or Jia Le Fu, located near the lake. The only French things about the chain of superstores, however, are its owners and the occasionally imported European chocolate and coffee one  finds on the shelves. The rest of its ‘ginormous’ interior is Chinese, and even more so during the weeks following up to the New Year. When the year of the pig began, in 2007, Jia Le Fu built a cartoon-like pig three times my size at its main entrance. Images of this mascot continued throughout the supermarket; a pig popping out of every label on every product of every isle.

Each year has its own zodiac sign. Whilst in China, I experienced the Chinese New Year for the pig, the rat, and the ox.

This New Year is the Year of the Dragon. I can only imagine the amount of decorations in China. China town in London gives a small taster, for us in the UK, of what the streets of Hangzhou (and the isles if Jai Le Fu!) probably look like at this moment. The Year of the Dragon is exceptionally important because a dragon carries a lot of symbolic significance in Chinese culture. Historically, the dragon has been a symbol of imperial power, represented in much of Chinese mythology, and, in some parts of China, a dragon is also considered a symbol of Chinese ethnic identity. I remember that, while learning about the lunar calendar in my Chinese classes in Hangzhou, the importance of the dragon was emphasized so much I was jealous of my older classmates who‘d been born in the year of the dragon. I happen to be born in the year of the goat, an animal not quite as glamorous.

In the weeks running up to the New Year, ribbons and paper chains hang from the sky, excitement fills the air and a myriad of sounds clamour for your attention. There’s people everywhere. However, during the actual celebration (three days of public holiday) the city becomes unexpectedly quiet. Distant fireworks still widely colour the air but they seem to lull the city into sleep. Roads quieten down  and only a handful of taxis and buses can be found. The old men who normally sit outside gas stations and tea shops drinking Long Jing Cha and playing checkers disappear. Bubble tea shops close and even the often-so-bright windows of the 24-hour hairdresser shops stay dark. This happens because most people working in cities have a family in the country side. For many of them the New Year is the only time of a year they have a chance to see each other, thus there is a mass exodus as they travel back home and the city goes to sleep.

During the weeks that China celebrated, our expat schedule stayed almost the same. It seemed strange walking around the campus of our international school when the neighbouring Chinese school, The Number Two Middle School, one of the biggest boarding schools in all of China, was suddenly still and quiet.

To me, Chinese New Year in China appeared as  a colourful, silent celebration but I’m sure there are many who would enhance this impression. In London, for those who dare to wander towards Trafalgar Square and China Town, Chinese New Year explodes as a jumble of shows, music, and late night dining. In London, Chinese New Year is a massive party for everyone, whereas in Hangzhou it was more a private celebration for family, one which a foreigner like myself may simply experience as distant fireworks.

“Greet the Chinese New Year and encounter happiness”

Other Related Chinese New Year Articles:

The 15 days of the Chinese New Year

Greet The New Year and Encounter Happiness: Chinese New Year Sayings


This entry was posted on Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 at 6:16 pm and is filed under days of significance, East Asia, General, social practices . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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