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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 February 2007, 15:27 GMT
Square crackles for Chinese New Year
by Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

Metropolitan Police stand
The police are there to recruit and build bridges

Thousands have gathered in London's Trafalgar Square for the lavish Chinese New Year celebrations, watching a parade and lion and dragon dancing.

A massive billboard overlooking Trafalgar Square displays one of China's best known exports.

But it's not cultural or culinary, it's the ubiquitous iPod.

Apple's music player is a symbol of the new economic realities of the 21st Century and of the new China, soon to be best known as a manufacturing powerhouse.

The billboard looks down on a far more traditional image of China, the blaze of colour and raucous celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

Drums bang, children fling firecrackers on the floor and the throngs press together as they strain to get a look at the passing parade of lions and dragons.

Lau Fai is in Trafalgar Square to immerse his three sons, aged seven, four, and two, in the Chinese New Year.

Roaring trade

"They like the dragons and the lion dancing and the martial art displays. It is once a year but every year is special."

Stallholder Chai Lay is doing a roaring trade in laminated Chinese horoscope sheets.

"The horoscopes are popular with everybody, not just Chinese people. Everybody is interested."

Alexander and Lindelina
The New Year's celebrations are a classic multicultural event

This is the start of the Year of the Golden Pig, a rare occurrence and considered extremely auspicious within the Chinese zodiac.

Fiona Doyle is visiting for the weekend from Leicestershire and is happy to join in with a bit of superstition.

"I'm the year of the goat, so apparently I'm imaginative, creative, have an easy-going nature and prefer to live in a relaxed pressure-free environment."

Twenty years ago the celebrations in Chinatown would have been dominated by British-based Chinese - but now as well as students, tourists from mainland China mill around amid the mostly non-Chinese crowd.

Multiculturalism can be an extremely controversial topic these days, but the New Year celebrations are being enjoyed by the thousands in the crowd.

Build bridges

Hundreds of red balloons bearing a rather suspicious-looking pig and the words "Metropolitan Police" drift around the square. There are a few people who cannot suppress a chuckle.

The police are out in force, using the day as an opportunity to recruit and to build bridges with a community that is not always the centre of attention.

Chinese lanterns
The celebrations were attended by thousands

Six-year-old Alexander is one of those having a good time.

"I like all the dragons and the people dressed up and the dancing."

His London-born mother Landelina Lee says: "He is a quarter German, a quarter Hungarian, and half Hong Kong Chinese so we celebrate basically everything and anything. I like him to learn as many cultures as possible."

Alexander is learning Mandarin at the moment for family reasons, but there are already many children learning the language in the UK, as the country prepares for China rampant.

The Year of the Pig seems as good a moment to get to grips with Chinese culture as any.

In pictures: London's Chinese New Year
18 Feb 07 |  In Pictures
China ushers in year of the pig
17 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific

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