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Beat the crowds on Chinese New Year’s Eve
By Qu Zhi

Countdown clocks tick down for the Chinese New Year and for people to start celebrating. In the Pudong New Area, many festive activities fill the holiday, from Lunar New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival.

“Dong, dong, dong,” the bell will resonate precisely 108 times at 12am on January 31, marking the start of the Year of the Horse. People get together at temples to pray and light the first incense of the year.

For Chinese people, listening to the bell is one of the most popular ways to welcome a new year, but it can also mean facing a throng of people. However, crowds aren’t so big at Nanshan Temple, dating from 1306 and located in Xinchang, a millennium-old water town in the Nanhui area.

In Buddhism, 108 represents the number of all worries and cares. While in Chinese solar terms, the number represents the whole year. So after striking the bell 108 times, all unhappiness will disappear to welcome the New Year.

‘Lust, Caution’ location

In the ancient water town of Xinchang, more than a half of the architecture is preserved from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. For a long time, this water town was not widely appreciated, until the movie “Lust, Caution” directed by Ang Lee hit the screen. The beautiful Chinese ancient town scenes were shot here.

Xinchang has a notable history, however — it was a prosperous trading town noted for the salt business that, at one time, was more flourishing than downtown Shanghai. Courtesan pavilions and bars were abundant while merchants swarmed into this town of canals and alleyways.

What was once the biggest town in Pudong experienced its ups and downs due to changes in the salt business and the outbreak of war, but visitors can still find signs of its past in its archways and buildings.

During the Chinese New Year, red lanterns swing from the eaves of gray-tile roofs while at night the swaying reflections in the water and the soft lights of the streets give the town a beautiful ambiance.

On February 14, the town holds a parade for the Lantern Festival at 1pm, followed by an eclectic program of folk art. The entertainment will include music, dancing, lion dances and traditional art.

Jiangnan si zhu, instrumental music typical of the region south of the Yangtze River, is one highlight. Dating from the Ming Dynasty, this music was common in Shanghai whether at private home parties or teahouses or at big occasions like weddings or funerals.

The name jiangnan refers to the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in southern Jiangsu Province, Shanghai and northern Zhejiang Province. Si zhu, literally “silk and bamboo,” refers to string and wind musical instruments, silk being string instruments like the pipa (Chinese lute) or erhu (two-stringed bowed musical instrument) while bamboo stands for wind instruments such as a bamboo flute or dizi, or a reed pipe or sheng.

Horse exhibition

Also in Pudong, a special exhibition for the Year of the Horse is underway at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, running until April 6.

This exhibition showcases objects linked to horses such as specimens, fossils, videos, stories and pictures about horses and how they influenced society’s development. It showcases the remarkable characteristics of the horse in such aspects as speed, visual sense, endurance, and even its tail.

“The horse has an evolutionary history of 50 million years and witnessed the radical change of the world, and also has played a vitally important role in human civilization. I want the visitors to know more about the cultural role and history of the horse,” says Zhang Huihong, curator of the exhibition.

According to Zhang, although there are only four mounted horse specimens in this exhibition, they are all very rare. One is best known from horse racing — a thoroughbred horse specimen with dark brown glowing fur. Thoroughbreds are any breed of horses bred chiefly for racing, originating from a cross between Arabian stallions and English mares. These horses hold speed records and are some of the most expensive horses in the world.

Other curiosities include specimens of horse organs and 14 interactive activities for the visitors to better understand such things as how fast a horse can run.

Traditional arts

Red paper is cut into intricate and symmetrical patterns and glued on the window. This is a very traditional Chinese way to create a festive atmosphere and the art is called chuang hua, meaning window flower.

In today’s hectic society, however, not as many people appreciate the tradition.

Until February 14, Zendai Himalayas Center will hold an exhibition and an outdoor market featuring traditional activities for the Chinese New Year as well as folk art.

Visitors will be able to enjoy such Chinese traditions as paper-cutting, the making delicate lanterns or puppets with many kinds of themes, sophisticated embroidery and other crafts while enjoying traditional gastronomic treats and snacks from the north to the south of China.

Nanshan Temple

Address: Xinhuannan Rd, Xinchang Town

Admission: Free

How to get there: Take Metro Line 2 or 7 to Longyang Road Station and transfer to the Longpinglu, Longpenglu or Longguoni bus lines, or take a taxi, and get off at Xinchang Ancient Town.

Tel: 6817-2264, 1391-7008-740, 1896-4082-019 (Those who want to strike the bell should book in advance.)

Zendai Himalayas Center

Address: 869, Yinghua Rd, Pudong

Admission: Free

How to get there: Take Metro Line 7 to Huamu Road station.

Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

Address: 2000 Century Ave, Pudong

Admission: 60 yuan

How to get there: Take Metro Line 2 to Shanghai Science & Technology Museum.

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