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Saturday, 1 February, 2003, 12:02 GMT
Asia welcomes lunar New Year
Woman buys New Year decorations in Beijing
Millions have been actively preparing for the festival
Millions across Asia have begun celebrating the Chinese New Year - the biggest holiday for Chinese communities worldwide.

Dates from 2600 BC
A complete cycle takes 60 years, divided into 12 year elements
Each of these 12 years is named after an animal favoured by the Buddha
The year you were born in is said to influence your personality
The Year of the Goat is also called the Year of the Sheep or Ram

Throughout the region, road and rail links were packed to full capacity on Friday as people headed home for the festivities to welcome in the Year of the Goat.

In China alone, millions of people thronged train and bus stations and airports, leaving city streets quiet.

The Chinese Government estimates the country's transport services will handle 1.8 billion trips during the holiday period - perhaps the planet's largest mass movement of people at any one time.

Streams of cars clog a major highway in Seoul
Roads were packed as people headed home

Red envelopes were being doled out in Chinese communities all over Asia in hopes of bringing good luck. Red symbolises good fortune in Chinese tradition.

Taiwan was no exception with President Chen Shui-bian handing out 15,000 red envelopes - each stuffed with 200 New Taiwan dollars (US$5.80) - to people in his hometown.

Other traditional ways of observing the new year include temple visits, family gatherings, lion and dragon dances, and firecrackers.

Festival atmosphere

Elsewhere in the region, the New Year period is also significant.

Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur has been lit by lanterns and banners festooning buildings, despite the fact the Chinese only make up 30% of the population.

In Vietnam, the New Year festival is also celebrated in style.

A woman threads a live snake up her nose in Beijing
The New Year is celebrated with traditional - and less traditional - displays
Called Tet, it is an all-consuming affair, with most businesses shutting down so families can spend the holiday together.

The tradition of buying new clothes, food and gifts, and decorating houses with red banners, orange kumquat trees and branches of blossom make it a picturesque festival, says the BBC correspondent in Hanoi, Clare Arthurs.

This year has a special significance for the small ethnic Chinese community in Indonesia, which will celebrate the event as a national holiday for the first time.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri announced last year that Imlek, as the New Year is known in Indonesia, would become an official day off - a step towards improving relations with the country's Chinese population.


The BBC's Francis Markus in Shanghai says the city's main railway station has seen a huge migration of people in the last few days.

Many of them are the millions of migrant workers who play an increasingly vital role in China's economy.

Their departure for the holiday season has emphasised how dependent the city dwellers are on their country cousins, our correspondent says.

The regional shut-down has encouraged many expatriates to leave East Asia for the duration of the festivities.

But even outside East Asia, the lunar New Year is being heralded in style.

A giant firework dragon will light up the River Thames in London and the Chinese quarters of many cities will be covered with lanterns and dragons over the weekend.

The BBC's Mae Loon
"Nearly nine million people will take plane trips in the week ahead"
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
reports on the rush to have a baby before the Year of the Goat starts
See also:

31 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
31 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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