The Chinese Lunar New Year has recently begun so expect celebrations until 15 days from now, when the Lantern Festival marks the end of all festivities. Just in case you are traveling abroad to any Asian country, or just happen to be in a nearby Chinese cultural center or Chinatown, don’t be surprised if you are greeted with “新年好”(Xīnnián hǎo, Good New Year) “新年快樂” (Xīnnián Kuàilè, Happy New Year), or “恭喜发财”(Gōngxǐ fācái, Congratulation with Fortune). The holiday marks the return to one’s home to pay reverence to elders and ancestors. In the U.S., cities such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans typically boast the biggest celebrations each year, due to their large Chinese and Asian populations. Because of the Lunar calendar, it can fall anywhere between January or February of the Gregorian calendar year.
The year of the Rooster
Each year is characterized by one of 12 animals found on the Chinese zodiac. This year marks the year of the Rooster (or Chicken), which traditionally means that anyone born in the year 1969, 1981, 1993, and 2005 will face a downturn in luck during this entire year. This is reflected on the Chinese tradition that the year of your sign is the unluckiest years of your life. So if you are in the same boat as me, buckle down, it’s only going to get worse. But, also according to tradition, I’m supposed to be honest, energetic, intelligent, flamboyant, flexible, diverse, confident with shortcoming such as being vain and arrogant. Outside of the shortcomings, they got it all wrong so there might be some hope for me this year just yet.
This also marks one of the biggest travel periods in China and other Asian countries, with an anticipated 2.98 billion trips expected to take place during this year’s festivities. Most will go by train, some by plane or driving, with some unlucky individuals going by bicycle, only to go 500 km the wrong way. This is the largest planned mass movement of people who takes place in the modern world and it only gets bigger each year. In the past, celebrations would take place at home, but with more people working farther away from their historical home roots, the number of travelers needing to travel has increased. And this isn’t just domestic travel either. The growing affluence of the average Chinese citizen means more trips abroad, which some use the entire week off to take advantage of. According to Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, the top 10 overseas destinations for Chinese New Year tourists in 2017 are Thailand, Japan, the United States, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Hong Kong and Taiwan, traditionally important destinations, have remained steady in recent years. Meanwhile destinations such as Turkey, Italy, and Egypt have seen a plummet of visitors, with ticket prices being slashed by 30 percent compared to last year. So if you’re planning on traveling to China or any of the other aforementioned countries listed above, you might want to wait a few weeks to avoid the potential crush.
With that being said, there are the inevitable safety concerns that come up with that many people traveling during the holiday, beyond pollution due to fireworks in Beijing. Any security expert or former military service member will tell you it’s a potential target rich environment. Chinese officials usually take this seriously, and if there is anything a totalitarian nation is good at, it’s cracking down on potential troublemakers. There has been an ebb and flow regarding concerns of Chinese New Year attacks in previous years, but I have not seen any official statements regarding specific threats this year. That doesn’t mean that threats doesn’t persist in mainland China. For example, in March 2014, 31 people were killed and over 130 wounded from a knife attack in a crowded train station the southwest city of Kunming. The attack was blamed on a separatist Uighur group from the Xinjiang region. Local security guards were not armed, and it took a ten minute response by a local SWAT team to end the carnage. And not all mass casualties come from actual attacks. There is still political fallout from a 2014 New Year’s Eve stampede in Shanghai that left 36 people killed and 50 injured when fake money was thrown out of a nearby window. Luckily, incidents like this have been few and far between, but in crowded situations such as this, vigilance should always be practiced. Being the year of the Rooster, take a cue from the Mercedes-Benz commercial and keep your head steady at all times.