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Ring in the New Year

Bi Keren, 59, a music teacher at Qinghua University, spent 2,400 yuan (US$289) on Sunday on six Chinese-style jackets for her family at Ruifuxiang, a century-old silk shop in downtown Beijing.

She specially ordered the style that was worn by world leaders attending the 2001 APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Shanghai, to get in on a new fashion trend and so that her family can spruce up for the Spring Festival, which falls on February 12.

The festival, marking the Chinese Lunar New Year, is the most important holiday to the Chinese -- like Christmas to westerners -- and a time for family reunions.

After hitting the spotlight at the APEC summit last October, the traditional garb is everywhere now.

At the summit, the garments surprised onlookers worldwide with their delicate ornamentation and embroidery.

Chinese in recent years have spent their seven-day holiday in a variety of traditional ways. In big cities, putting up Spring Festival paintings, making dumplings and enjoying family gathering are a common practice each year. The current favorites are wearing traditional costumes, chatting in teahouses and watching Beijing Opera.

In rural areas, a local opera performance always attracts huge crowds of farmers, many of whom travel a long distance just for the show.

According to newspaper reports, more and more out-of-towners are going to antique shops to find old-fashioned furniture to be used as computer tables.

Consumerism takes many forms in this busy season. Silian, the oldest beauty salon in Beijing, reported receiving hundreds of customers between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. for the past several days.

Folk fairs are always popular with Chinese families at holiday- time. Local enterprises as well as folk artists now compete for booths.

Cultural activities in Beijing this spring are themed on folk art, culture, and reading the classics.

2002, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, is the Year of the Horse, which symbolizes success. Chinese believe the first " horse year" in the new century will bring luck and happiness.

Some young couples are busy planning marriage ceremonies, leaving local wedding companies booked to the limit.

An increasing number of Chinese now travel abroad during the lengthy holiday period. Yang Lixin, with the China International Travel Agency, said tours were sold out almost two months ago, with Korea, Japan and Australia ranking as the top destinations.

"Groups of Chinese in traditional costumes will be a common sight on the streets of Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney," Yang said.

The days will also be full for those who stay at home. Tongli Car Rental Co. and 10 other companies in Beijing have reported unprecedented business in the run-up to the holidays.

According to the Culture Bureau in Beijing, 22 artistic troupes will stage 106 performances including singing and dancing, drama, opera, acrobatics and children's plays, from February 9 to 18.

Six Russian troupes have 26 performances on their schedule, which started January 19, including ballets such as "Swan Lake" and other classics.

Children are likely to go to exhibitions in libraries and museums, and then there's the US film "Harry Potter" playing in cinemas nationwide.

On Monday, or New Year's eve, Bi Keren's family will take a family picture in the 65-year-old China Photo Studio, and then go to the largest car market in northern Beijing.

"My family will also rent a rickshaw for a sight-seeing in the Beijing alleys," she said. "Next year, maybe we'll buy a car and drive around the city."

(Xinhua News Agency February 11, 2002)

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