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Chinese Welcome Year of the Ox

Millions of Chinese are celebrating the beginning of the Lunar New Year. Revelers partied into the early hours Monday with almost non-stop fireworks.

The loud sound of firecrackers scared small children and set off car alarms. For Chinese, the sound is also meant to scare off bad spirits, to help ensure the new year will be a good one.

The Chinese zodiac system is based on animals, and this new year is the Year of the Ox, an animal that symbolizes calm, hard work, resolve and tenacity.

Chinese television entertained the public with an annual New Year extravaganza. One performance gave an indication of an issue China will take very seriously this year, as it celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding - national unity.

Chinese minority groups were represented in full costume, dancing in several concentric circles. Tibetans performed in front of a backdrop of the Potala Palace in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. The dance also prominently featured Uighurs, Mongolians and Koreans.

China had notable difficulties with two minority groups in 2008. Tibetans rioted in Lhasa in March, while Uighurs attacked Chinese government facilities in far northwestern Xinjiang province, around the time of the Beijing Olympics in August.

For most Chinese, returning home to their families is the traditional way to celebrate. Chinese authorities estimate more than two billion trips will be taken during the Lunar New Year period, which started January 11 and lasts for 40 days.

Chinese President Hu Jintao visited revolutionary veterans, model workers and farmers in Jinggangshan, in the eastern province of Jiangxi.

Mr. Hu says China will try its best to develop the old revolutionary bases and help make life better for the people living there.

The remote mountain area was an important base for Mao Zedong's Red Army, before the Chinese Communists took over the country in 1949.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also spent time away from Beijing. The official China Daily newspaper says Premier Wen spent Sunday in southwestern Sichuan province, with survivors of last May's devastating earthquake.