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One million Beijingers visit temple fairs
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Almost 1 million Beijingers flocked to parks and festive "temple fairs" across the city Monday, breaking with the tradition of staying home on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, official statistics indicated.

A record 157,200 people visited the 11 parks in downtown Beijing Monday, up 55.5 percent from last year, the Beijing Municipal Administration Center of Parks said on its website Tuesday.

The three former imperial gardens, the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and Beihai Park, have sought to revive traditional culture and art as a special treat for visitors during the week-long Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, also known as the Spring Festival.

The Temple of Heaven, where Chinese emperors used to worship, staged a traditional dance and prayer ritual Monday morning involving nearly 300 actors in ancient attire, the center said.

A spokesman with the Temple of Heaven said at least 17,300 people visited the site Monday, three times the usual figure.

On Suzhou Street at the Summer Palace in northwest Beijing, a "shopping center" built by Emperor Qian Long (AD 1736-1795) to resemble streets of the eastern scenic city of Suzhou, staff at bars, teahouses, pawnshops and stationery stores wore Qing Dynasty robes.

Even cleaners and security guards were dressed as peasant women and petty officials from the Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1911).

Traditional temple fairs, featuring performances, snacks and souvenirs, drew a record 600,000 visitors Monday, the Beijing Morning Post reported.

Amateur performer Li Shaohua proudly donned an emperor's robe for a 40-minute prayer ritual at a temple fair in the Temple of Earth.

Li beat dozens of candidates for the role and spent a month training. "I'd say I did a wonderful job," he said. "And thank goodness these days have been warm enough for this time of the year."

The Temple of Earth also staged a show to mimic the hucksters of old Beijing. "Jewelry ... I'll buy; old clothes... I'll buy..." a dozen actors dressed in Chinese-style jackets chanted on the stage.

The Changdian Temple Fair, Beijing's oldest and best-known temple fair in the city center, was by far the most crowded, with 178,000 visitors Monday alone, management of the fair said Tuesday.

Yonghegong, the Lama Temple in downtown Beijing, had 55,000 pilgrims Monday. Many people burned incense for good luck in the Year of the Ox.

"I hope the stock market will become bullish and business will boom this year," said Chen Lin, who waited at least two hours in a long line of pilgrims before she could enter the main hall at 10 a.m. Monday.

"My grocery store has had few customers this past week ... I'll pray for fortune in the new year."

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