Lunar New Year: Welcoming the Year of the Tiger

Saying goodbye to the Ox, we enter the Year of the Tiger on February 1, 2022.

Though the pandemic continues to overshadow the occasion, with public festivities once again pared down or canceled in many cities, millions of families around the world will still be celebrating at home.

Here’s a quick guide to the most common Lunar New Year traditions and superstitions, as well as insights from some of Hong Kong’s most established geomancers on what the Year of the Tiger might have in store.

Lunar New Year 101

Lunar New Year festivities can often last for up to 15 days, with different tasks and activities taking place over that period.

Though the spread of Omicron has impacted the way people are celebrating this year, don’t despair and remember the unofficial #1 tip from the Lunar New Year rule book: Focus on the positive and only use auspicious language.

So how is the Lunar New Year traditionally celebrated? It all begins about a week ahead of the new year.

On the 26th day of the last lunar month — January 28 this year — festive cakes and puddings are made. The word for cakes and puddings is “gao” in Mandarin or “go” in Cantonese, which sounds the same as the word for “tall,” meaning eating them is believed to lead to improvements and growth in the coming year.

(If you haven’t prepared your own “go” yet, here’s an easy recipe for turnip cake, a beloved Lunar New Year dish.)

Then, a big cleanup is done in homes on the 28th day, which was January 30 this year. The aim here is to rid your home of any bad luck that’s accumulated over the past year.

Red is the de facto Lunar New Year color. It's assoicated with luck and prosperity.

Red is the de facto Lunar New Year color. It’s assoicated with luck and prosperity.

Chen Chuhong/China News Service/Getty Images

A big family reunion dinner is usually held on Lunar New Year’s Eve, which falls on January 31 this year.

The menu is carefully chosen to include dishes associated with luck, including fish (the Chinese word for it sounds like the word for “surplus”), puddings (symbolizes advancement) and foods that look like gold ingots (like dumplings).

Though many Western nations refer to the Lunar New Year/Spring Festival holiday as Chinese New Year, bear in mind it’s celebrated not just in Chinese communities but in other Asian countries, including Vietnam and South Korea.

Countries that observe Lunar New Year often offer three to seven days of public holidays but celebrations aren’t complete until the 15th day of the first lunar month, also known as the Lantern Festival.

People are expected to visit relatives and friends in the early days of new year — except for the third day of the month. Day three of Lunar New Year (which falls on February 3 this year) is named “chi kou,” or red mouth. It’s believed that arguments are more likely to happen on this day, so people will visit temples and avoid social interactions.

Cities around the world welcome the Lunar New Year with lantern shows and fireworks.

Cities around the world welcome the Lunar New Year with lantern shows and fireworks.

VCG/Getty Images

There are plenty of other rules and superstitions attached to the Lunar New Year. For instance, don’t wash or cut your hair on the first day of the new year. Why? The Chinese character for hair is the first character in the word for prosper. Therefore washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away.

You’ll also want to avoid purchasing footwear for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese.

Throughout the 15-day festival, hosts usually prepare candy boxes and snacks for their guests. Married couples are expected to hand out red packets filled with money to children and unmarried adults to wish them luck.

The seventh day (February 7) is said to be the day when the Chinese mother goddess Nuwa created mankind and, thus, is called renri (the people’s birthday).

Different communities in Asia will serve different birthday foods on that day. For instance, people in Malaysia enjoy yeesang, or a “Prosperity Toss” of raw fish and shredded vegetables, whereas Cantonese people will eat sweet rice balls.

The highlight comes on the last day (February 15). In ancient Chinese society, it was the only day when young girls could go out to admire lanterns and meet boys. Thus, it’s also been dubbed Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Nowadays, cities around the world still put on massive lantern displays and fairs on the final day of the festival.

Heavenly stems and earthly branches

The 12-year Chinese zodiac calendar cycle is represented by 12 different animals — the Chinese zodiac signs — but that’s only the start.

Followers believe that for each of the Chinese zodiac signs, luck will depend largely on the positions of the Tai Sui — the stars directly opposite Jupiter.

If your zodiac sign clashes with Tai Sui — aka the Grand Duke of Jupiter — in a particular year, the experts say you might find yourself dealing with disruptions. (Find your sign here.)

A year isn’t just categorized by its zodiac animal. There’s also a complex sexagenary cycle made up of 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches.

Every year, a heavenly stem (one of five elements, which fall into either the yin or yang category) is paired with an earthly branch (one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac).

So February 1 marks the beginning of “Ren Yin” year, the 39th element of the Chinese sexagenary cycle. The Tiger — “Yin” — is paired with the heavenly stem “Ren” — water. So it’s referred to as the Year of the Water Tiger.

Confused yet? We asked some of Hong Kong’s most established geomancy consultants to help explain what it all means.

The world will welcome the Year of the Tiger on February 1, 2022.

The world will welcome the Year of the Tiger on February 1, 2022.

VCG/Getty Images

“Water Tiger is the name of the year but don’t be mistaken — wood and fire elements are much more prominent than water this year,” Hong Kong geomancy consultant So Man-fung Peter tells CNN Travel.

“How the year affects you depends on what elements you need and fear according to your birth chart.”

A 60-year calendar is often used to calculate how each person’s own birth sign will be affected in a particular year.

In Chinese geomancy, one’s birthday chart is composed of a wide range of elements that interact with the year’s heavenly and earthly stems. So for many, the calendar plays an important role in making huge life decisions for the year ahead, such as whether they should get married or start a business.

Because each person’s birthday chart is composed of a wide range of elements such as the day and time of their birth, they may interact with the year a bit differently.

But “there is some general guidance we could follow,” says So.

“Most people born in autumn and winter (August 8 to March 6) generally need more wood and fire; they will see an improvement in their fortune from 2022. (Those dates apply to those in the Southern Hemisphere as well, even though the seasons are different.)

“Fire also signifies clashes like car accidents. So if you’re clashing with Tai Sui this year, you would want to be extra careful when you drive,” says So.

Thierry Chow, another well-known Hong Kong geomancy consultant, agrees that road accidents are a concern given this year’s prevailing elements. But she thinks that water will still play a vibrant role in 2022.

“So we can expect big movements for anything water-related, which unfortunately could mean more water-related disasters, or big ocean movements,” she tells CNN. “On a more positive note, the Water Tiger year also represents strength in the arts, technology and design sector, which means these areas will be thriving.”

Which animals will have a good year?

Different geomancy masters may interpret the data differently, but there is a general consensus on what the year means for each zodiac animal based on the positions of the stars, especially Tai Sui.

As noted above, if your zodiac sign clashes with Tai Sui in a particular year, you might find yourself dealing with disruptions.

Born in the year of the Tiger? It's your "Ben Ming Nian."

Born in the year of the Tiger? It’s your “Ben Ming Nian.”

Xu Hongxing/VCG/Getty Images

People born in the Year of the Tiger will be facing their “Ben Ming Nian” — their own zodiac year — in 2022. Followers believe this means there will be more disruptions and instabilities in the year to come.

“Your financial luck isn’t too bad this year but you may be overshadowed by negative emotions. So it’s better if you focus on your work and boost your wealth this year. If you’re a winter baby, you could try to advance at work,” says So of what lies ahead for the world’s Tigers. “Be very careful when you drive, especially in first lunar month.”

A few other zodiac signs will also be clashing with Tai Sui in various ways, including Monkeys. Similar to Tigers, they may deal with challenges in relationships and unexpected changes.

“If you’re born in spring or summer, you may want to reconsider making bold career moves this year,” says So. “But if you’re single, the clash may bring you some luck in love.”

People born in the year of the Snake will also be conflicting with Tai Sui this year, which may lead to an increase in gossip and annoyances.

“Among all the signs, I think Snakes should be most careful this year. ‘Ying Tai Sui’ usually translates to tricky problems involving legal documents — problems that may not go away easily. If you really need to sign any document this year, you’ll need to be immensely thorough,” says So.

Meanwhile, Pigs are in only in a slightly conflicting position with Tai Sui. They could find themselves arguing with friends, but So thinks that a lucky star will bring Pigs some helpful benefactors.

“There is a lucky star shining above Pigs this year. We call it ‘luk hap’ (the unity of six directions — everything aligns with the universe in a harmonious way) so it’s actually a pretty good year for them.”

Clashing with Tai Sui is not as scary as it sounds. Followers believe there are ways to improve your luck.

“Traditionally people always think that change or instability is bad but it can actually be a good thing and a chance for you to grow a lot. It’s not about fighting the change but embracing it,” says Chow.

“I encourage people to attend happy events. There’s a saying…if you have one happy event, it will counteract and balance out the negative energy of three events.”

She says getting married, attending parties or anything that could bring you joy would lessen the blow.

On the other hand, people born in the year of the Horse will be matching with Tai Sui, “which means that they will enjoy great relationships despite facing some gossip. They may enjoy an improvement in power, status and wealth,” says So.

As for the rest of the animals, So says Goats and Oxes will enjoy much better luck in romance and at work this year compared to 2021.

People born in the year of the Rabbit could see romantic relationships easily come and go.

If you are born in the year of Dog, it could be a positive year for two types of people: those with works connected to foreign lands and those who are artists, says So.

And finally, Roosters could find themselves meeting people who will help them in 2022, while Rats and Dragons don’t have any significant lucky or unlucky stars shining above them and will have a relatively peaceful year.

As we say in Hong Kong, sun nien fai lok!

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Chinese travel for Lunar New Year despite plea to stay put

BEIJING — Chinese are traveling to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest family holiday, despite a government plea to stay where they are as Beijing tries to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

The holiday, which starts with Chinese New Year’s Eve on Monday, usually is the biggest annual movement of humanity as hundreds of millions of people who migrated for work visit their parents and sometimes spouses and children they left behind or travel abroad.

Some 260 million people traveled in the 10 says since the holiday rush started Jan. 17, less than before the pandemic but up 46% over last year, official data shows. The government forecasts a total of 1.2 billion trips during the holiday season, up 36% from a year ago.

“I know we are encouraged to spend the New Year in Beijing, but I haven’t been back home for three years,” said Wang Yilei, whose hometown is Tangshan, east of the capital. “My parents are getting old and they are looking forward to seeing me.”

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is tightening controls to contain coronavirus outbreaks ahead of next week’s opening of the Winter Olympics, a high-profile prestige event.

China’s infection numbers are modest compared with India, South Korea and some other countries. But they challenge Beijing’s “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of China by isolating every infected person.

Athletes, reporters and officials at the Winter Games are required to avoid contact with outsiders in hopes of preventing infection.

Some 106 of the 3,695 people who arrived from abroad for the Games so far tested positive for the coronavirus. Two are athletes or team officials.

Authorities in Beijing have ordered mass testing for more than 2 million people in the capital’s Fengtai district following outbreaks there. Some families were ordered not to leave their homes.

Elsewhere, 1.2 million people in an area 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Beijing that is being developed as a possible site for ministries to relocate were told to stay put.

Restrictions were imposed on Xiong’an New District this week after five cases were found in people who came from the capital, according to notices circulated online by residents. They said the controls would last seven days.

People who travel are required to show a negative result of a virus test within 48 hours before departure.

“We should go back home for the New Year as long as we can, if the local prevention policies allow us to,” said Wu Jinpeng, a university student who was en route from the southern island of Hainan to his hometown near Beijing.

Some travelers face the prospect of being ordered into quarantine if they arrive from areas deemed at high risk of infection.

Travelers are tracked by “health code” software on smartphones that records where they go and the results of virus tests.

“I called the government hotline of my hometown and they said I can go back, as long as my health code is green,” said Sun Jinle, a bank employee from Qinhuangdao, east of Beijing.

“If I live in Fengtai District of Beijing then I can’t (go home),” Sun said. “Luckily, I live in Tongzhou District,” which has no travel ban.

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Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as Lunar New Year travel season starts; Omicron spreads | U.S. & World

BEIJING (Reuters) -Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travellers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing.

Authorities have warned the highly contagious Omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.

Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south said on Sunday travellers need to report to communities, employers or hotels their trips three days ahead of arrival.

The southwestern city of Yulin said on Saturday those who want to enter should fill in an online form, including their health credentials and trip details, one day in advance.

Over the weekend, the capital Beijing and the southern technology hub Shenzhen each detected one domestically transmitted Omicron case.

The possibility that the Omicron case in Beijing was infected through imported goods can’t be ruled out, Pang Xinghuo, an official at the city’s disease control authority, said on Monday.

Li Ang, vice director at the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said a local hospital had admitted nine Omicron infections, with six still being treated. He did not say when the infections arrived or why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.

The city of Meizhou in Guangdong province found one Omicron infection linked to an outbreak in Zhuhai, state television said on Monday.

So far, at least five provinces and municipalities reported local Omicron infections, while 14 provincial areas found the variant among travellers arriving from overseas.

China is yet to show any solid sign of shifting its guideline of quickly containing any local infections, despite a high vaccination rate of 86.6%. The strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei province starting Feb. 4.

Many local governments have already advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily trips during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.

China’s aviation regulator said on Monday it would suspend two flights from the United States over COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cancelled flights this year from the country, where Omicron is spreading, to 76.

China reported 163 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptom for Sunday, official data showed on Monday, up from 65 a day earlier.

Sunday’s increase in infections was mainly driven by more cases in the cities of Tianjin and Anyang, where Omicron has been found in local clusters.

Tianjin and Anyang reported slightly more than 600 local symptomatic infections from the current outbreaks, smaller than many clusters overseas, but authorities there still have limited movement within the cities and trips to outside.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Stella Qiu, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry)

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Lunar New Year, China’s biggest holiday, upended as covid surges threaten festivities worldwide

Several European cities have already canceled firework displays ringing in 2022 and some countries are reimposing restrictions, while Chinese families face the prospect of their third Lunar New Year spent apart.

The Lunar New Year — which begins on February 1, 2022 — is China’s biggest holiday, with millions of people traditionally crisscrossing the country to join loved ones for the festivities.

But those plans were upturned for many after China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Saturday announced travel restrictions, doubling down on its “zero-Covid” strategy ahead of the Beijing Olympics happening the same month.

It urged residents in any city with confirmed Covid-19 cases against traveling during the upcoming New Year and Spring Festival holidays, amid an outbreak of infections in recent weeks.

The travel restrictions are a fresh blow for lockdown-weary Chinese families, who have endured some of the toughest — but most effective — rules in the world for more than a year.

It’s bad news too for the world’s second largest economy, still struggling with real estate woes and the fallout from sporadic lockdowns.
China’s “zero-Covid” strategy will be pushed to the limits when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics in February, as the country opens its doors to foreign athletes at the same time the Omicron variant will likely be surging in other parts of the globe.

The government in Beijing announced Friday that due to the upcoming holiday season and influx of foreign athletes, residents should avoid leaving the city during the Spring Festival, unless necessary.

Indeed the Omicron variant also comes just as many countries in the Asia-Pacific region with tough restrictions — including Australia and Japan — had tentatively started to loosen up and live with Covid-19.

Paris and Rome cancel New Year events

China isn’t the only country downscaling its festivities this year amid outbreaks.

The Netherlands is imposing a strict new lockdown, starting Sunday at 5 a.m., Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced in a televised press conference Saturday, according to CNN affiliate RTL News.

Indoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of two guests until January 14, except on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when that will be extended to four guests, according to RTL News.

All schools and extracurricular activities will close until at least January 9, RTL reports.

Sports competitions will be halted, and all indoor sports venues will also be closed, Rutte said, according to RTL News, though children under 17 years of age will be able to continue playing sports until 5 p.m. Sunday.

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

France on Friday announced large outdoor events and gatherings will be banned on New Year’s Eve as the country faces its fifth wave of infections, warning that Omicron will become the dominant variant by early 2022.

Denmark has also proposed closing cinemas and theaters, and limiting the numbers of people in shops the week before Christmas, as it attempts to control a spike in cases.

And Rome is among several Italian cities that have decided to cancel New Year’s festivities over coronavirus concerns, authorities said Thursday.

The Campania region has also banned feasts and alcohol consumption in public areas from December 23 to January 1. Venice also canceled its open air concerts and New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Ireland will also introduce an 8:00 p.m. curfew for restaurants and bars from Sunday, and limit numbers for both indoor and outdoor events, amid a surge in Omicron cases, it announced Friday.

China’s ‘zero-Covid’ strategy

Under China’s newly tightened measures, people from medium or high-risk areas are strictly prohibited from travel. Those on official duties, or working in the transportation sector, should obtain special permission and a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours, the NHC added.

The rules are slightly eased for residents in “low risk” districts. They are only advised not to travel during the holiday season, and are required to have a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours to leave the city.

As part of the designation, “medium risk” areas are those with less than 10 reported cases in the last two weeks. And “high risk” areas have more than 10 reported cases.

China currently has 12 “high risk” areas and 57 “medium risk” areas, NHC statistics showed Saturday.

China has fully vaccinated 1.186 billion people, accounting for 84% of its the population, NHC spokesperson Mi Feng said.

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Asian Businesses Suffer Lunar New Year Blues Over Travel Curbs | Investing News

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – From a skyway operator in Australia to a tourist guide on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali and a lion dance troupe in Malaysia, Asia’s travel industry is hurting as coronavirus curbs keep most people home for the Lunar New Year.

The celebration, which begins on Friday, usually triggers the largest annual migration as people reunite with loved ones or go on holiday, but this year government curbs are spoiling plans, even as many nations roll out vaccines.

“In the last 10 months, there’s been no income, because there are no visitors,” said Bali tour guide Effendy, wearing traditional red headgear and batik-print sarong, as he stood in a deserted 60-hectare (148-acre) park.

Crowds of tourists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan usually visit at this time of year, drawn by the park’s colossal 21-storey-tall statue of the Hindu god Vishnu riding the mythical eagle Garuda.

Also hit by the lack of foreign tourists is Bangkok, where a survey has predicted Lunar New Year spending faces its sharpest fall in 13 years.

Parked in rows in the Thai capital, with many gathering dust and cobwebs, are hundreds of “tuk tuk” motorised rickshaws, tour buses and boats.

“I will monitor the situation for another year,” said garage owner Kraisak Kulkiatprasert, who used to rent out more than 100 vehicles a day, but now manages to rent less than 10 despite slashing prices.

“If it doesn’t get better, I will have to shut down.”

In neighbouring Malaysia, a ban on public performances has kept a lion dance troupe from putting on its colourful, energetic show, with men in full costume leaping between poles, to the beat of drums, cymbals and gongs.

“We are badly affected because…our main income comes from Lunar New Year, which helps to cover our expenses for the year,” Lim Wei Khang, the deputy of the Kun Seng Keng dance group, told Reuters.

The traditional display has long formed part of the festivities in Malaysia, where Chinese form the largest ethnic minority, at just over a fifth of its 32 million people.

Unlike normal years in Australia, when throngs of tourists head for the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney, mere handfuls have come to gaze at the rock escarpments and shimmering waterfalls amid the forested slopes.

The operator of the world’s steepest railway and glass floored cable cars says its nature park is nearly empty as border closures to prevent virus spreading meant there would be no influx of tourists over the Lunar New Year.

“Normally, Chinese New Year we would be absolutely bustling with all our delightful visitors from across Asia,” said Anthea Hammon, the chief executive of privately-owned Scenic World, which is now open just four days a week, from seven formerly.

“We’ve seen a really significant, absolutely complete decline.”

In China, however, this year’s festival holds raw memories for some.

Deng Wei, a 26-year-old resident of the central city of Wuhan, will burn incense to mark the death anniversaries of her father and grandmother from virus complications.

She will gather with relatives in a cemetery on the outskirts of the city, where the virus emerged late in 2019 to spread worldwide. Also infected was Deng’s mother, who recovered after being given a slim chance of survival.

“The doctors said that they would try their best,” Deng recalled. “I was desperate after hearing this. But luckily my mother pulled through.”

In Japan, the cuddly bear character Rilakkuma, popular for his laidback demeanour, sits on the shelves of a Tokyo department store, flanked by other plush toys, displacing the home appliances normally favoured by Chinese tourists.

As virus travel bans keeping out the tourists this year, the store is hoping to lure more Japanese instead.

“Before we were branded as a duty-free shop, but last year we renovated our stores so that Japanese customers can also feel welcome,” said Jin Xuezhu, head of the inbound sales division at the Laox duty-free retail chain, which runs the store in the district of Akihabara.

In the Bali park, Effendy, an ethnic Chinese who has worked as a tour guide for 30 years, said he hoped to ride out the economic crisis.

“My biggest hope is that we can recover from this pandemic quickly…and all activities can return to normal again.”

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus:

(Reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes in Katoomba, Australia; Martin Quin Pollard in Wuhan, China; Sultan Anshori in Ungasan, Indonesia; Ebrahim Harris in Muar, Malaysia; Jiraporn Kuhakan and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Irene Wang in Tokyo; Writing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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Heartbreak and anger as China discourages travel for Lunar New Year

(CNN) — Normally at this time of year, hundreds of millions of Chinese people would be packing highways, trains and planes on homebound trips to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their family.

But this year, the largest annual human migration on Earth has been put on hold, following the Chinese government’s call to avoid “nonessential” trips during the holiday period to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus.

That is a lot to ask. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, is the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar — the equivalent of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve combined.

For many Chinese who left their hometowns for better job opportunities in big cities, it is the only chance they may get to see their families this year. Parents who left children behind in villages so they could work may face another 12 months without them.

Travelers wait in the main hall of the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai, China, on January 30, 2019.

Travelers wait in the main hall of the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai, China, on January 30, 2019.

Qilai Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images

To discourage people from traveling, China’s National Health Commission has imposed new rules that require people returning to rural areas to produce a negative Covid-19 test taken within the previous 7 days, and to spend 14 days in “home observation” upon arrival.

Some local governments have added their own, stricter rules. For example, in some places, returnees need to spend two weeks in a government-approved quarantine hotel, instead of remaining under observation at home with their families.

The new restrictions have provoked fury on social media, with some questioning the government’s policy at a time when many people had hoped to go home.

“I would like to ask, did you seriously think about it and look into it before making this policy?” one person posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

“Do medical conditions in the vast rural areas allow everyone to have an coronavirus test every 7 days? Doesn’t the gathering for coronavirus tests bring a bigger risk of infection? In addition, the state only gives us 7 days of statutory holiday, and now you ask returnees to be isolated for 14 days. What are your brains made of?”

For months, state media has celebrated China’s success in taming the coronavirus, contrasting its speedy, effective measures with the chaotic approach of some Western governments.

But this year has brought fresh challenges. In January, more than 2,000 positive cases were detected in China’s northern provinces, the worst resurgence of the virus since March.

Given the virus’ rapid transmission, Beijing recognizes the need to move quickly, as do the Chinese people, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.

Second Lunar New Year hit by coronavirus

It’s the second year in a row that the Lunar New Year, which begins on February 12 this year, has been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than two million lives worldwide.

Last year, Beijing’s main train station was overflowing with travelers before the Lunar New Year, as Chinese authorities had not yet announced the coronavirus was transmittable from person to person, or admitted that it was already spreading outside of Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s initial outbreak.

Wuhan was eventually locked down two days before Lunar New Year’s Day, but millions of people in the central Chinese city had already traveled back to their hometowns in the weeks leading up to the holiday, accelerating the spread of the virus.

After the holiday, many were stuck in their hometowns, as new travel restrictions prevented them from returning to the cities where they worked.

A Chinese flag hangs over an empty departure hall at Beijing Chaoyang Railway Station on the first day of the Spring Festival travel rush on January 28, 2021.

A Chinese flag hangs over an empty departure hall at Beijing Chaoyang Railway Station on the first day of the Spring Festival travel rush on January 28, 2021.

Jia Tianyong/China News Service/Getty Images

This year, the departure hall at the Beijing train station remains largely empty in the lead up to Lunar New Year. The government’s call for people to stay put in the cities where they work has apparently worked.

On the first day of the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush, or “chunyun,” which fell on January 28 this year, Beijing Capital International Airport saw an 86% drop in departing passengers compared with the same period last year. Across the country, the drop in air passengers on the first day of chunyun was 71% compared with last year, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
The Ministry of Transport estimates that 1.15 billion trips will be made during the 40-day Lunar New Year travel period this year, 61% less than in 2019 and 22% less than last year.

If the predictions are correct, it will be lowest number of trips made during Lunar New Year since the government began publishing records in 2003.

Criticism and censorship

China’s plans for Lunar New Year stand in stark contrast to the last major holiday in October, when crowds packed public transport and tourist attractions around the country for Golden Week.

Then, China had not reported any locally transmitted symptomatic case since mid-August, and both the government and the people were confident in keeping the virus under control.

Pictures of domestic tourists cramming the Great Wall were featured prominently in state media, as proof of China’s success in containing Covid-19.
Chinese tourists crowd a bottleneck as they move slowly along the Great Wall of China during the Golden Week holiday in October, 2020.

Chinese tourists crowd a bottleneck as they move slowly along the Great Wall of China during the Golden Week holiday in October, 2020.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

This time around, Chinese state media is unleashing a very different propaganda campaign, exalting people’s decision to stay put as an act of fulfilling their responsibility to the country — but the praise has not been uniformly welcomed.

Last week, People’s Daily, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, posted what seemed like an innocuous message on Weibo.

“Every Chinese has their special Spring Festival memories. But this year, the Spring Festival will be different from before … Tens of thousands of people have chosen to stay for the Lunar New Year. Their sticking around is for a better reunion in the future,” it said.

The post was soon flooded with angry comments. “Don’t thank them. They all want to go home. It’s true,” read a top comment, which generated more than 4,400 likes in less than three hours.

“The government has set countless barriers for (people who) want to go home to pay a price. They hurt the interest of home returners to achieve the result the government wants. It’s shameful that the government feels proud about this,” another top comment reads.

By the next morning, all critical comments had been removed. The People’s Daily published another Weibo post along similar lines, but it was also inundated with criticism.

“As state media, can you bend down to hear the people’s voice? Is your propaganda work only for pleasing the leaders? We all know we can’t go home for the new year, and are feeling miserable about it, but you keep sensationalizing it and keep talking about it. Who really wants to hear your ‘thank you’?” said a comment, which was later also deleted.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment spray disinfectant at Jingzhou Railway Station in Hubei on Febraury 1, 2021.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment spray disinfectant at Jingzhou Railway Station in Hubei on Febraury 1, 2021.

Yang Qiu/VCG/Getty Images

The central government has banned people from or with travel history to high-risk areas from traveling. Those in medium-risk areas are also not allowed to travel unless they obtain special approval from local disease control authorities and present a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours. Residents in low-risk areas are encouraged to stay put, but are not banned from traveling.

However, on Weibo, users also complained that local governments in their hometowns had imposed extra requirements on returnees, despite Beijing’s order that no excessive requirements should be added by local authorities.

“I think the policy is too harsh,” said Dan Di, a 21-year-old student from the southern city of Guangzhou, who requested to use a pseudonym to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government.

He has just finished 21 days of quarantine — two weeks at a hotel in the nearby city of Zhuhai and one week at home in Guangzhou — after returning from Hong Kong, where he is studying film at university.

Dan Di considers himself lucky to be able to spend time and money on quarantine and coronavirus tests — but he noted that it would be out for reach or many of the country’s nearly 300 million migrant workers.

“The spring festival is the only chance, and the most important chance for them to go home, to stay with their family,” he said.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a guideline for local officials to enhance “care and service” for the 7 million or so children who won’t see their parents this Lunar New Year.

It instructs parents to use “phone calls and video calls to conduct ‘heart to heart’ talks with their left-behind children.”


After a difficult 2020, many Chinese people had looked forward to seeing their families. However, the outbreak in the north threatens to undo the work Beijing has done so far to contain the virus.

Unsurprisingly, local officials have thrown their support behind the central government’s campaign. They’re not only imposing onerous requirements for tests and isolation — they’re even handing out subsidies and benefits to encourage people to stay put.

The city of Hangzhou in eastern China, for example, is offering a cash handout of 1,000 yuan ($155) for every migrant worker. Other cities are providing shopping coupons, discounted rent and even early access to coronavirus vaccines, according to Chinese media reports.

Lunar New Year 2021 The Year of the Ox

A worker hangs traditional red lanterns for the upcoming Spring Festival in a usually busy commercial and tourist area on February 3, 2021 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

Tian Qimeng, who runs an engineering consulting company in the port city of Tianjin in eastern China, said his company is handing out 300 yuan ($46) of cash to non-local employees who choose to stay for the holiday.

“I originally wanted to go home, too, but eventually decided against it as I wanted to make a good example for everyone,” he said.

The 49-year-old didn’t return to his hometown in Shaanxi province last year due to fears over the coronavirus. The last time he didn’t return home for Lunar New Year for two years in a row was more than two decades ago, when he had just graduated from university — he was too busy working as a technician and he spent those holidays on a construction site.

Tian says he “respects and understands” the restrictions imposed on travel.

“They’re all professional (health) experts, if you ask me to made (policies) I can’t come up with better ones. So why not just follow theirs? It’s the best for everyone to do what they’re good at,” he said.

Others are also following official guidance.

Vicky Wang, a internet company employee based in Shanghai, would normally fly back to her parents in northern Shaanxi province a week before the Lunar New Year.

Instead, this year the 25-year-old is stocking up on her favorite snacks — rice crackers and chocolate — as she prepares to hunker down to spend the most important festival of the year alone in her apartment, more than 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) away from her family.

Wang said she understands the government’s suggestions and concerns.

“We have to live our life in a safer way. We have to cut off all the possibilities for the virus to spread. We have to make a little bit of sacrifice for everyone to keep us safe,” she said.

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China Restricts Travel for Lunar New Year to Control COVID-19 Spread

Chinese officials urged people to avoid traveling home for the Lunar New Year observance to prevent spreading the coronavirus in rural areas.

China reported its biggest one-day jump in COVID cases in more than five months on Wednesday. Efforts to contain the new wave of infections include a lockdown of four cities. Most of the new cases were reported near the capital, Beijing; but an area in the far northeast also reported a rise in infections. More than 28 million people are under home quarantine.

Heilongjiang province on Wednesday declared a COVID-19 emergency. The city of Suihua, next to the provincial capital, Harbin, put its 5.2 million people under lockdown. Tieli, a city of about 300,000 that borders Suihua, said on Wednesday it would ban people and vehicles from leaving for three days as part of new COVID-19 prevention measures.

Officials said Wednesday that local health centers and hospitals in villages need to watch carefully for any new COVID-19 cases.

A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus wheels a suitcase across a pedestrian bridge in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus wheels a suitcase across a pedestrian bridge in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Stay in place for Lunar New Year

The government is preparing for the world’s largest yearly movement of people. Hundreds of millions of Chinese usually travel home for Lunar New Year break in February. Many of those traveling are workers in cities who go back to their home villages. Officials in some places have asked those workers to stay where they are.

Wang Bin is an official with the National Health Commission. Wang told a news conference: “In the period leading up to Lunar New Year, we urge the public that those who do not need to travel, should not travel.’” Wang added that those who must travel should do it at times that are not very busy, wear face coverings, and “avoid crowded places with lots of people.”

Wang Bin, spokesperson for Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention, National Health Commission of China

Wang Bin, spokesperson for Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention, National Health Commission of China

In Hebei province, the city of Shijiazhuang has most of the recent virus cases. On Wednesday, the health commission in Hebei announced another 90 confirmed cases. Shijiazhuang ordered its roughly 10 million people to take a second round of tests for the virus. The officials want to isolate the sources of infection, some of which may be coming from wedding gatherings. Testing rates are at 12.55 million people each day, or 10 times the level last March.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China is about 87,706. The official death toll is at least 4,634.

The Hebei outbreak worries officials because the province is close to Beijing. Travel to and from three cities is not permitted. The cities are: Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Langfang. People living in some communities have to stay home for the next week.

Feng Zijian is deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He told reporters that a “massive” increase in infections is unlikely during the holiday if people obey control and prevention measures.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk outside of an office complex in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk outside of an office complex in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

Vaccines for 10 million

On December 15, China started a vaccination campaign for some groups. Officials said Wednesday that health workers have given over 10 million doses of one of the COVID-19 vaccines produced in China. Currently, China has only approved one vaccine for people age 18 to 59. It is from state-owned Sinopharm.

China has also approved three vaccines for emergency use, including two from Sinopharm and one from Sinovac, a private company.

WHO investigation

World Health Organization, or WHO, experts arrived in China last week to begin studying the origins of the pandemic. Chinese officials said they would work “closely” with the WHO in their research. The WHO head criticized the Chinese government for slow approval of the necessary permissions for their investigation. The team will have to spend 14 days in quarantine.

China has strongly controlled all research into the origins of the coronavirus. State media has promoted theories that someone brought the virus to China from outside.

A health expert with the WHO said earlier that they did not expect that the team would reach a final opinion from its trip.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

See The Language of the Health Crisis for details on the words in this and similar stories.

lockdownn. ​a state of isolation or restricted access put in place as a security measure

province – n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into

isolation n. ​the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others

originn. the point or place where something begins or is created or the source or cause of something

pandemic n. ​an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world​

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