Chinese hope for bullish Year of the Ox

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese celebrated the Lunar New Year Monday with hopes that the Year of the Ox will be more bullish than disaster-stricken 2008.

“Goodbye to the snows of 08, the quake of 08, the pain of 08, the bitterness of 08; May 2009 be bullish for you,” read one greeting sent by text message at midnight, as fireworks exploded across the nation in a raucous welcome to the New Year.

The Year of the Rat was not a good one for China, despite high hopes for the Olympic games hosted in Beijing in August. Ice storms interrupted the last Lunar New Year, Tibetans staged a brief but widespread uprising, tainted milk sickened thousands of babies and a slowing economy heralded heavy job losses.

In Sichuan, where a devastating May 12 earthquake killed more than 80,000 people, some survivors put on a brave face.

“We’ve cobbled together a new house. It’s not too bad,” said Liu Shaoyun, whose nephew was killed when his school dormitory collapsed in Muyuzhen, in northeastern Sichuan. “It’s a little cold, but what can you do?”

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Premier Wen Jiabao this weekend visited villagers, factory workers, and children across the quake zone, urging victims to keep up their spirits and move forward.

The economy is a more immediate worry for most Chinese, as a real estate slump at home and drop in export demand from abroad have caused factories to close and businesses to cut bonuses.

Many migrant workers, whose remittances sustain the rural economy, are now home for the New Year but could have trouble finding jobs when they return to the cities next month.

Unemployed people have been allowed to peddle wares without paying a fee at the temple fair in Beijing’s Temple of the Earth, the Beijing Times said Monday.

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Chinese are expected to send 18 billion greetings by text message this week, as friends and families unable to reunite in person do so electronically.

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For some, the holiday brought sorrow. In Beijing, a 3-year-old girl and her grandparents died in a house fire, while her parents, migrant workers who sell vegetables, were out celebrating.

Fireworks were so thick in the air in Shanghai on New Year’s eve that they generated 1,200 tones of debris, the Xinhua news agency said.

Chinese president Hu Jintao pledged more “equal development across society” during a pre-holiday visit to Jinggangshan, a poor Communist revolutionary base in the southern mountains that has been mostly left out of China’s headlong rush to riches over the last three decades of economic reform.

State television showed Hu beaming as a baby kissed his cheek, visiting a marketplace, and singing with villagers at Jinggangshan, where an embattled Mao Zedong regrouped communist forces in the late 1920s before embarking on the Long March.

Acknowledging the winter storms and power outages that ensnarled much of South China last winter, Hu also visited a power plant and called for steady electricity supply.

China Central Television used the holiday to showcase Hu’s slogan of scientific development, by unveiling a model for a space station, known as “Tiangong” or Heavenly Palace, that China plans to launch before the end of next year.

Editing by Alex Richardson