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China looks to New Year as nation recovers from blizzards
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Chinese people are looking forward to an auspicious Year of the Mouse, as the country recovers from transport and power chaos triggered by a long spell of bad weather.

Migrant workers stranded by the freezing weather toast at a free evening dinner on the Lunar New Year's Eve in Fuzhou, east China's Fujian Province, February 6, 2008. Local government provided a free evening dinner for stranded migrant workers on the Lunar New Year's Eve, an occasion which all Chinese cherish as the time for festive gatherings.

People began to exchange text messages on Wednesday, wishing one another a healthy, happy, and successful Lunar New Year. The Mouse Year officially began on Thursday.

Many recalled the three weeks of severe weather in their greetings, stressing the significance of family, friendship, the leadership and the spirit of determination and unity among people in coping with the natural disaster.

"Ice and snow cannot freeze the true feelings among people, nor will coldness dispel the pursuit of happiness. We still share smiles amid the special Spring Festival. Thank you for standing along with me against the test of the snowstorm!" Li Weihong, a reporter of the Guiyang Daily, said in her greetings.

Statistics from the Guangdong branch of China Mobile show that people sent more than 700 million text messages on Wednesday alone, the eve of the traditional Chinese New Year, up nearly 14 percent year-on-year.

Electricity was partly or fully restored to 164 snow-stricken counties, including Chenzhou city in Hunan Province, after workers reconnected local power lines to the national grid on Wednesday at midnight. Tap water supply was also being restored.

The first thing most Chenzhou residents did to mark the New Year was to take a bath, a long-time taboo among older people. It was the first hot bath for many in weeks. People gladly gave up candles and coal balls, the main source of light and heat over the past few weeks.

Many shops reopened, but diners found they couldn't pay meals with bank cards. Bosses of some restaurants said they were in great need of cash to pay employees, especially as many banks were closed during the holiday.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (C) has Lunar New Year's Eve dinner together with students who were stranded by the snowstorm in Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics February 6, 2008. The premier is visiting the snow-plagued regions during the Spring Festival.

Residents of Guizhou Province, one of the worst-hit regions, began to enjoy going out after the ice and snow thawed and transportation and power supply resumed.

"I'm so happy to see that the sky turned clear on the first day of the new year. The power has come back and tap water pipelines have been fixed thanks to the hard work of maintenance personnel," said 50-year-old Zhang Zizhen, a native of Hongxing Village of Zunyi County.

"My family and I have been staying at home for more than 20 days, but finally we can have a normal festival," said Zhang, cooking the first meal of the year for the family.

Niu Shulin, a national model worker, spent New Year's Eve in a coal mine about 400 meters underground in Shanxi Province. Niu had a belated holiday meal of dumplings on Thursday morning after a shift of nearly 10 hours in the dark.

"My colleagues and I produced 8,000 tons of coal that will be delivered soon to energy-thirsty regions affected by the weather," said Niu, 55.

Many other miners participated in an emergency campaign that produced 1 million tons of coal every day over the past week. Their efforts have helped many disaster-stricken regions to alleviate energy shortages.

The disaster was proof of the spirit of never retreating in the face of hardships and the strong cohesion among the people, said Wang Kaiyu, an expert with Anhui Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

The unexpected spate of extreme weather, which brought widespread chaos, also revealed the weak points of China's fast-growing economy.

The economy has boomed since it launched an opening-up policy in 1978, but the gap between limited resources and increasing demand has remained unsolved, experts said. They cited the examples of the Spring Festival transportation period and coal and electricity shortages triggered by the weather problems.

But many Chinese believe that the upcoming Olympic Game will bring good luck and development opportunities to the country, ensuring a better life for the 1.3 billion population.

"We have tamed the disaster with strong determination. Let's now brace for the grand Olympic event," Ren Libo, a native of Guizhou, said before getting off his homebound train on Wednesday night.

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)

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