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Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 06:04 GMT
Chinese new year kicks off

Fireworks in Singapore Fireworks in Singapore, one of many parties around the world

By Jill McGivering in Hong Kong

Saturday marks the first day of the lunar new year in the Chinese calendar, the biggest and most colourful celebration of the year.

Crowds gathered in Hong Kong for a Chinese new year parade, a traditional part of celebrations here, where lunar new year is the main annual holiday.

Across China businesses and public services close down as families gather together for the festival.

Dragon dance in Beijiing A dragon dance on new year's eve
The rush to go home brings chaos to China's public transport systems as many millions of people, many of them migrant workers, travel back to their family villages by train and bus.

It is one of the world's biggest human migrations.

One report earlier this week said more than 200 people had already been killed in travel accidents in one province alone.

That number is expected to rise as the real travel frenzy gets under way.

Year of the Dragon

This year could be more intense than usual. It is the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, the luckiest and most powerful animal in the Chinese horoscope.

Dragons are still honoured by the traditional dragon dance, performed to the sound of Chinese drums and cymbals.

Lion dancers in Beijing Lion dancers at Beijing's Temple of the Earth
Dragons used to be closely associated with the Chinese emperor and his family, seen as symbolising both the emperor's superhuman powers and his benevolence.

Although the emperors have gone, it is still considered very auspicious to be born in a year of the dragon.

Dragon babies are thought likely to be successful, prosperous and powerful.

As a result some analysts predict an increase in the birth rate in Chinese communities in the next 12 months.

Good luck balloons on sale in Beijing Good luck balloons on sale in Beijing
In Hong Kong many people say the Year of the Dragon could bring a new spirit of good fortune.

Hong Kong has suffered from economic downturn for more than two years now, with record unemployment and social hardship.

Local people say the dragon could bring a much needed change of luck.

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See also:
04 Feb 00 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Huge exodus for new year
04 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
New year appeal for quake survivors
04 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
In Pictures: Preparing for the dragon year
28 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Taiwan takes fizz out of fireworks
16 Feb 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Happy Year of the Rabbit

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