Children perform a lion dance routine with an improvised lion head made from a plastic pail, as members of a dragon dance troupe pass by, in the Chinatown district of Manila on February 4, 2019, on the eve of the Lunar New Year of the Pig.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
Chinese communities around world welcome Year of the Pig
Elaine Yu (Agence France-Presse) - February 5, 2019 - 8:28am

HONG KONG, China — Chinese communities began welcoming the Year of the Pig on Tuesday, ushering in the Lunar New Year with prayers, family feasts and shopping sprees after embarking on the world's largest annual migration.

In mainland China over the past week, hundreds of millions of people have crammed into trains, buses, cars and planes to reach family and friends, emptying the country's megacities of much of the migrant workforce.

Celebrations will take place across the globe, from Southeast Asia's centuries-old Chinese communities to the more recently established Chinatowns of Sydney, London, Vancouver, Los Angeles and beyond.

The most important holiday of the Chinese calendar marks the New Year with a fortnight of festivities as reunited families wrap dumplings together and exchange gifts and red envelopes stuffed with money.

Pigs symbolise good fortune and wealth in Chinese culture and this year's holiday brings a proliferation of porcine merchandise, greetings and decorations.

During the Spring Festival season -- a 40-day period known as "Chunyun" -- China's masses will be on the move, chalking up some three billion journeys, Chinese state media reported.

Streets and busy thoroughfares were uncharacteristically empty in Beijing on Monday, with many shops and restaurants closed until next week.

A growing number of Chinese are also choosing to travel abroad, booking family trips to Thailand, Japan, and other top destinations.

An estimated seven million Chinese tourists will head overseas over Spring Festival this year, according to official news agency Xinhua, citing numbers from Chinese travel agency Ctrip.

Prayers and greetings

In Hong Kong, flower markets were filled with residents picking out orchids, mandarins and peach blossoms to decorate their homes -- with stalls also boasting a dizzying array of pig-themed pillows, tote bags and stuffed toys.

Thousands of incense-carrying petitioners crammed into the city's famous Wong Tai Sin temple overnight, a popular location to mark the first prayers of the New Year.

In Malaysia -– where 60 percent of the population is Muslim, and a quarter ethnic Chinese -– some shopping centres chose not to display pig decorations, while some shops kept them inside.

But shoppers and traders said that was usual in a country where the Muslim majority are sensitive about an animal considered unclean in Islam, and overall there had been little controversy this year.

Next door in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country which also has a sizeable ethnic Chinese population, the Lunar New Year is a public holiday.

Events like traditional lion dances are held in decorated public spaces while supermarkets stock up on mooncakes and tangerines.

In Japan, the capital's famous Tokyo Tower was due to turn red in celebration of the New Year -- a first for the city. 

Parades and lion dances in Western cities such as New York and London were expected to draw large crowds.

Beijing-friendly figures like Pakistani president Arif Alvi and Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen extended new year greetings to China.

Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen used her social media accounts to deliver a political sideswipe at Beijing with a message highlighting the island's democratic credentials and linguistic pluralism.

"In Taiwan we are able to maintain our cultural traditions," she said in a video in which she delivered the traditional new year greeting in five Chinese languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, Teochew and Cantonese.

Mainland authorities have long been accused by critics and minorities of pushing Mandarin at the expense of other languages.

China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Relations between Taipei and Beijing have had a rocky start to 2019 after Xi Jinping delivered a bellicose speech last month describing the island's unification with the mainland as "inevitable".

CHINESE NEW YEAR CHINESE NEW YEAR 2019 LUNAR NEW YEAR YEAR OF THE PIG
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 30, 2019 - 4:45pm

President Duterte issues a message to the Chinese-Filipino community on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

"The friendship and cooperation forged between the Philippines and China have not only led to greater prosperity and economic growth for both our nations, but also gave rise to a unique culture that is nurtured by harmony amidst diversity."

June 30, 2019 - 4:45pm

The docking of the USS Montgomery in Davao City for a port visit shows the Duterte administration's "utter subservience to the US imperialists," the Communist Party of the Philippines says, adding this is happening "even as Duterte displays outright slavishness to China over the Recto Bank incident."

Under the Duterte administration's "independent foreign policy", the Philippines has sought better relations with China and Russia while, at least outwardly, cooling ties with the US and the European Union, whom the government has accused of trying to meddle in domestic issues.

But the CPP claims the "docking of the USS Montgomery dwarfs China's trawl ships in the South China Sea, literally and politically."

It claims that "US warships carrying guns, missiles, fighter jets, hundreds of soldiers and nuclear arms, dock directly on Philippine civilian ports and airports, unload and store war materiél on US-controlled facilities, and offloads foreign troops who enjoy protection under the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement."

The 1987 Constitution forbids the presence of nuclear weapons in Philippine territory. The US has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence or locations of its nuclear weapons.

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