Lunar New Year in Asia

Chinese protest "propaganda" in traditional television gala as others head overseas in spite of months of bad news for the economy. In Vietnam, a province mourns dozens of holiday shoppers killed in a ferry accident.

Beijing_305 Fireworks illuminate the skyline as people celebrate the Year of the Ox in Beijing on January 26, 2009.
AFP/Liu Jin

HONG KONG--China welcomed in a raucous Year of the Ox Sunday in spite of economic gloom surrounding mass layoffs from its normally booming cities, while Vietnam mourned the deaths of at least 40 people after a ferry sank in the center of the country.

The sound and smell of firecrackers, believed to attract wealth and clear the threshold of evil spirits, spread across cities as celebrations in China looked set to last into the early hours of Monday, the first day of the new lunar year.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who traditionally spends the holiday period with the less fortunate in Chinese society, visited survivors of last May's earthquake in Sichuan that killed more than 80,000 people.

One person died after an explosion near the gate of a police station in Shanghai Sunday, state-run news agency Xinhua said, adding that the cause of the blast was being investigated.

People packed temple fairs, shopping malls, and public transport Sunday in a last-minute dash to get home in time for the traditional meal and television show: the Spring Festival Gala broadcast by state-run China Central Television (CCTV).

But a group of intellectuals called the public to boycott the traditional show in what they called "a refusal to be brainwashed".

Boycott of TV show

Beijing-based scholar Ling Cangzhou, who led the campaign, said he would boycott the show, even though it promised a star-studded line-up including singer Zhang Mingmin, made famous by his hit "My Chinese Heart".

"The fact is that this program has put out a lot of propaganda during its 20-year history," Ling said. "It definitely has an ideological stance, which can be seen in some of the songs that are performed."

"Some of the sketches turn universal values on their heads, and they try to brainwash stupid people."

Ling, whose campaign was supported by 21 others, including lawyers, academics and authors, slammed CCTV for declining to respond to the campaign.

"CCTV claims to report the truth. But they censored two phrases in Barack Obama's inauguration speech; the part where he criticized fascism and communism and the part where he criticized countries that suppress dissent."

"They cut those two parts out."

Ferry tragedy

People stand around bodies of victims from a river boat accident in Quang Trach district, central province of Quang Binh on January 25, 2009. At least 40 people drowned in a river boat accident in Giang river. AFP
State media reported that demand for overseas trips had soared this year in spite of the harsher economic climate, and that Chinese people took 63 million trips on Saturday alone as people traveled home for what for some is their only holiday of the year.

Domestic trips had fallen to just a quarter of last year's total, however, in some sectors of the travel industry.

In Vietnam, at least 40 people died ahead of the traditional Tet celebrations, with a further 36 survivors after their ferry sank in the Gianh river in Quang Binh province about 315 miles (500 kilometers) south of Hanoi.

Searchers recovered 40 bodies, including three pregnant women and seven children, police said.

Provincial governor Phan Lam Phuong called the accident a tragedy at what should have been a time of celebration, canceling a planned fireworks show and ordering compensation of U.S.$600 in compensation for each victim.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. 


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