China Welcomes Year of the Rabbit

A girl wears bunny ears as she visits the Yuyuan Garden in downtown Shanghai February 2, 2011. The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 3 and marks the start of the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (CHINA -

China has ushered in the Year of the Rabbit with firework extravaganzas - an age-old custom to ward off evil spirits and beckon good fortune - and family gatherings.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told the Chinese in his annual New Year address the government will fight to control inflation and crack down on property speculators - two of the big issues facing the country over the next 12 months.

Families gathered outside their homes at the stroke of midnight Wednesday to see in the New Year and to express their hopes - and fears - for the next 12 months.

Li Yang works at the Forbidden City and spent New Year's Eve with her family making traditional dumplings before heading outside to let off fireworks. She says she hopes for sound economic growth for her family and her country.

She says she trusts the government, which "has the capability to take the country forward" and improve the lives of [the] Chinese people.

But not everyone is as optimistic. Ma Zhonghua, a taxi driver and is working over the holiday period, says it is becoming difficult to make ends meet. He thinks it is now impossible for him to make enough money to buy a home as property prices are too high.

But like most Chinese, he is keen to see a prosperous society.

The just-ended Year of the Tiger was mixed bag for China.

Its impressive economic growth continued but rising inflation and property prices caused hardship for many.

Labor strikes and wage increases also rocked the economy.

Like shoppers at the New Year markets, China’s government is concerned. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in speech marking the New Year holiday that the government would try to keep overall consumer prices stable.

But he also warned the Chinese they would have to deal with thorny problems over the next year.

VOA - P. Simpson
A Chinese woman enjoys the traditional fireworks to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit. Fireworks are an old Chinese custom and are used to scare off evil spirits and beckon in good fortune at the start of a New Lunar Year.

Despite the cautionary tone, most people in China are taking the opportunity over the week-long holiday to spend time with loved ones, let off fireworks and hope for peaceful and prosperous Year of the Rabbit.

Youngsters shout "Happy New Year!”

South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam also are celebrating the New Year this week. Businesses in those countries have largely shut down and families gather for traditional feasts.