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."