Southeast Asian Chinese Celebrate Year of the Rat

BenarNews staff
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Thai-Chinese and tourists wear masks while praying for good luck leading up to the Chinese New Year at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Jan. 24, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Lion dancers perform at the Hotel Indonesia Roundabout in Jakarta in preparation for the festival to celebrate the Year of the Rat, Jan. 23, 2020. [Afriadi Hikmal/BenarNews]


A statue of the Buddha is cleaned in preparation for the Lunar New Year celebration at the Dharma Bhakti temple in Jakarta, Jan. 20, 2020. [Afriadi Hikmal/BenarNews]


A man works on a rattan frame for a lion head mask at a shop in Subang, Malaysia, Jan. 23, 2020. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]


A woman puts the finishing touches on a mask at a shop in Subang, Malaysia, Jan. 23, 2020. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]


Lion dancers perform in front of onlookers in Manila’s Chinatown district, in preparation for the celebration of the Chinese New Year, Jan. 23, 2020. [Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]


Dragon dancers walk along a street in Manila’s Chinatown district, Jan. 23, 2020. [Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]


Thai Chinese who live in Bangkok’s Chinatown area, burn gold paper to honor a deceased ancestor, Jan. 24, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


A Jakarta stall sells religious decorations and gifts in anticipation of the Chinese New Year, Jan. 23, 2020. [Afriadi Hikmal/BenarNews]


The staff of the Shanghai Mansion Hotel in Bangkok’s Chinatown pop balloons instead of setting off firecrackers to honor their ancestors, Jan. 24, 2020. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Banners welcoming the Chinese New Year greet people traveling in Hanoi’s old quarter, Jan. 24, 2020. [Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]


The Chinese Embassy organized a program in Dhaka featuring traditional dances to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year and to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Sino-Bangladeshi relations, Jan. 17, 2020. [BenarNews]

Southeast Asians along with millions across the globe are reviving lion dances and other traditions in the hope of striking good luck as they celebrate the Year of the Rat, the Chinese New Year that starts on Saturday.

China refers to the lunar event as a Spring Festival. The celebration, which runs through Feb. 8, marks the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar.

In Thailand, some participants are donning masks as a precaution in light of the outbreak of a new coronavirus. On Friday, the Thai government confirmed that a fifth person had contracted the virus – a woman from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the disease is believed to have originated.

The new year is the biggest holiday for Chinese communities. Associated with myths and customs, it is a time to honor deities, as well as ancestors.

Red symbolizes good fortune in Chinese tradition, and in Southeast Asia red packets that almost always contain money are distributed during family reunion dinners. Custom dictates that the amount should be of even numbers, with the number 8 considered lucky.

A Thai business owner expressed concern that this year’s celebration could be smaller than in previous years. Shitisan Kiatkangwanklai said the downturn could be caused by the nation’s economic situation.

“I went shopping to prepare for the day and there were not as many people out,” he told BenarNews. “That might be because of the bad economy and items are very expensive.”

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok, Afriadi Hikmal in Jakarta, S. Mahfuz in Subang, Malaysia, Jojo Rinoza in Manila and Luis Liwanag in Hanoi contributed to this report.


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