The Chinese are welcoming the new year of the rabbit, believed to be the luckiest sign in the zodiac system. Business people are advised to invest, but there are also predictions of natural disasters.
People in Shanghai are celebrating with this giant rabbit lantern
The windows of many homes are displaying red rabbit-motif lanterns and paper cut-rabbits and shops are adorned with rabbit decorations, as millions of Chinese people worldwide are welcoming the year of rabbit, which starts this Thursday, February 3. China’s postal system released a series of special stamps with rabbit illustrations that sold out within just a few hours. In the city of Harbin, tourists can see the world’s largest giant rabbit ice sculpture in temperatures as low as -28 degrees Celsius. Wealthy Chinese-Filipinos are buying rice cakes decorated with gold and diamonds hoping to attract good luck and create good ties with friends. And loud sounds of firecrackers and fireworks, in efforts to scare off evil, are going off in many cities.
Many celebrate the Chinese New Year with food, dancing and fireworks
Good year for business
One popular tradition in welcoming the Chinese New Year is making predictions for the year ahead. In Chinese culture, many people take the predictions seriously and adjust their lives accordingly. The rabbit is the fourth of the 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac system, with each year having its own unique characteristics. The rabbit symbolizes happiness and good fortune. The famous astrologist Dong Yilin says, "people who are born in the year of rabbit are generally active people, very open, but also a bit conservative". Rabbit people are normally dependable friends.
Dong Yilin works in a big office with 30 employees. At this time of the year, not only individuals come and pay good money for his advice, but also many entrepreneurs. Each year the animal signs are also linked to one of the five elements of metal, fire, wood, earth and water. Each individual combination recurs every 60 years. "The year 2011 is also the year of metal. That means it is a very good year for investments, especially in finance and stocks and also in the mining industry." In the Chinese zodiac system, metal is considered to be strong and determined. With this prediction the Chinese government is hoping to bring inflation under control.
Fireworks and all kinds of loud noises are used to scare off last year's demons
But Mr. Dong does not only have good predictions for the coming year. He said the weather might go crazy in the year of the rabbit, bringing floods, tornadoes or draughts to some countries like the USA, Canada or Taiwan. People who were born in the year of rabbit – 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987 or 1999 - should also watch out. "The rabbit people might have enormous pressure this year. Their parents might get some health issues or some things might happen at work."
Hope for more babies
In Singapore the rabbit’s positive traits are used by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to urge the people in the country to have more babies this year. He said that additional children would bring more joy to families. Last year, in the year of the Tiger, the number of babies born per woman in Singapore fell to the all-time low of 1.16. While immigrants (who make up a quarter of the country’s population) have filled the population shortfall, Lee said that Singaporeans should produce enough babies as well, in order to "set the tone of society and uphold the core values and ethos. I hope more couples will start families in the Year of the Rabbit. Chinese New Year is the time for families to come together in celebration, and more babies can mean only more joy in the years to come."
Crimson lanterns are hung for the Chinese new year celebrations
Cyber family gathering
The most important aspect about welcoming in the Chinese New Year is spending time with family. One young woman in Beijing said all she wants in the new year is "happiness for my family and friends. I hope everyone is happy, not more." In some countries, the beginning of the New Year is marked by a week-long holiday.
Hundred of millions of people working in China’s big cities head home for the Lunar New Year, using all means of transportation. Also a large number of Chinese living abroad want to share food and festivities with their relatives. But like thousands of other Chinese people living outside the country, Liu Shiqi, who is studying economics in France, cannot do that. Not only because it is so far away, but also because it is impossible to find an affordable flight to go back. She admits that is not easy being away from home at this time of the year. This time, the internet is her savior: "I will have a live video chat on QQ with my parents on the morning of New Year’s Eve, Paris time", she said.
Not only young Chinese are taking advantage of the internet. Parents also have learned to stay in touch with their children through the internet. QQ, a Chinese version of Microsoft MSN Messenger, notched up over 500 million active users last year. Welcoming the Chinese New Year, Sina.com, a Chinese version of twitter, also offers "red pocket money" for people who get relatives to sign on to the service on New Year’s Day. That way, you can also relive the tradition of giving money envelopes to children online. Among other prizes, the website is giving away a solid gold rabbit worth 550 Euros.
The year of the rabbit is expected to be a good year for investments
Bad luck for rabbits?
While people all over the world are celebrating the Year of Rabbit, it may not be such a good year for the fluffy animal itself. It is feared that wearing rabbit fur will become more popular this year. In some Asian countries posters have gone up showing a woman’s foot stepping on the neck of a dead rabbit and in Hong Kong models in bikinis and bunny ears paraded around with signs saying: "Make it a year for rabbits. Don’t wear fur." People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has criticized actresses like Gong Li and Michele Reis for wearing this expensive piece of clothing.
"We want people to know that if you care about animals or want to make it a good year for rabbits, please don’t buy any fur," PETA spokeswoman Ashley Fruno said. Rabbit fur is widely available in Asia. Because of its cheap price it is commonly used not only for fashion but even for cat and dog toys. Fruno said, the manner in which the rabbits are skinned is everything but humane.
Many people are also rushing to buy bunnies as pets. For people who sell rabbits as caged pets, this year is a boom. Zhao Xiaoli, the owner of a Beijing pet shop, says that she has sold an average of 10 rabbits per day since December. In China people can buy rabbits for 5 euros. But wealthier families prefer more expensive breeds of non-white rabbits. Some animal activists are concerned that the cute animal might be neglected or abandoned once the popularity has worn off.
Author: Anggatira Gollmer
Editor: Sarah Berning