WITH the end of the Lantern Festival, the grand celebration of the Chinese New Year is drawing to a close.
As the new Chinese ambassador, I was lucky to spend my first Chinese New Year in Malaysia with friends here from all sectors and was deeply impressed by the experience.
Malaysia had a three-day public holiday for the Chinese New Year, but the celebration seemed much longer. Maybe it was because I was a newcomer, and friends from all walks of life were eager to invite me to celebrate with them.
It seemed as if the celebrations had gone on for more than a month. If there’s a vote for the longest Chinese New Year celebration in the world, it would definitely be Malaysia.
There was a strong festive atmosphere during the Chinese New Year. Lanterns and coloured lights could be seen everywhere, and people seemed overcome with joy.
The shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur looked magnificent, decorated with Chinese cultural elements.
At a mall, there were some students selling Chinese New Year couplets (traditional festive items that are used as wall decor due to their auspicious nature).
I was excited when I found out that an elderly man and his granddaughter had purchased two of the couplets.
The Chinese New Year is a nationwide celebration here. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his deputy, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and other cabinet ministers celebrated the event with people in their constituencies in towns and villages.
They also had the traditional Lou Sang — the symbolic dish of prosperity, health and all things auspicious.
It is not only the Chinese Malaysians who celebrate Chinese New Year. Other races also participate. Many Malaysians wear red and distribute ang pow — it has become a tradition.
I saw people bowing to one another as they greeted and wished each other Gong Xi Fa Cai. China’s Dragon and Lion Dance were played with gusto to usher in the new year.
At almost every event during this Chinese New Year period, I saw friends of different races and backgrounds joining the celebration.
I was not only moved by the Chinese Malaysians who inherited and practised Chinese cultural tradition so well, but also their spirit of embracing diversity and harmony of the Malaysian society.
This is the most important cornerstone of stability, and the driving force in Malaysia.
Family and homeland means a lot to the Chinese people, and the Chinese New Year is the most important day for people who live far away from home.
They have to travel hundreds of kilometres to reach home in time for the reunion dinner.
They will pull out all the stops to get home for the reunion. The arduous trek home and the biting cold winter would not stop their resolve to get home on time.
In view of China’s huge population, traffic before and after the Chinese New Year is called the “Chun Yun”, considered as the largest scale of annual migration of human beings by the western countries.
Thanks to the gradual improvement of China’s public transportation and supporting facilities in the past 40 years of reform, travel has become more convenient.
In 2009, Japan’s NHK TV station made a documentary in Guangzhou during the Chinese New Year, recording passengers who had to sleep on the floor at train stations, crowds of people jostling at ticket counters, and the thousands of passengers in packed trains.
But, in the Chun Yun documentary filmed by BBC in 2016, it was a different scene.
The transportation system had improved greatly — the means of transportation for people returning to their homes were cars, trains, planes and motorcycles.
The ticket counters at the rail stations were no longer crowded.
The movie Lost On Journey (2010) was a big hit that showed all kinds of awkward and adventurous journeys during the Chinese New Year.
Today, the Chinese people are proud of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail carriages.
The Longan train station in Fujian Province was retrofitted and completed in nine hours.
During “Chun Yun” this year, some 390 million people took the train. The expansion of the high-speed rail network has once again shortened the way of returning home. New technologies such as facial recognition, WeChat and Alipay have made travel more convenient.
As China’s first high-speed railway, the Beijing-Tianjin intercity railway started operating in August 2008. By the end of last year, the running mileage of China’s high-speed railway ha reached 25,000km, accounting for 66.3 per cent of the world’s total number of high-speed railway.
The cumulative passenger traffic has reached seven billion, which is roughly equivalent to the world’s total population.
With the Fuxing bullet train, which travels at a speed of 350km per hour, passengers can reach home for their reunion dinner in a few hours.
When I first came to work in Beijing in 1993, I relied mainly on trains to return to my hometown of Xi’an in Shaanxi. At that time, it took about 14 hours to reach home.
China’s vast and complex geological conditions have not made it easy to build the high-speed rail network.
But, China did it. From Harbin to Dalian, it had built the world’s first high-speed railway in the coldest zone.
The rail passes three provinces in the northeastern region, which is influenced by continental climate conditions.
For instance, Harbin has four distinct seasons with long cold winters and short cool summers.
China has also built the high-speed railway in the typhoon-prone Hainan Island.
Then, there is the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a miracle in the history of railway construction.
It is true that from a world perspective, China is a latecomer in railway construction.
However, due to the diligence and wisdom of its people, China has evolved the high-speed rail technology from “technology introduction” to “digestion and absorption”, and is now exporting its “scientific and technological skills”.
China possesses the longest railway mileage (29 of China’s 31 provinces and regions are connected by bullet trains), the longest running length and largest number of travellers all over the world.
It’s been only three months since I took office, but I am impressed by the Malaysian government’s efforts to improve its public transportation sector to make it easier and more convenient for the people, especially when travelling home for the holidays. This concept coincides with that of the Chinese government.
During the Chinese New Year holiday, I had a chance to experience Malaysia’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) services.
On the way to Ipoh, Perak, on the second day of the Chinese New Year, I joined the long queue of cars and felt the hardship of the people returning home.
I believe that with the gradual implementation of the MRT, Electric Train Service, Rapid Transit System, East Coast Rail Line and Malaysia-Singapore High Speed Rail, travel will be made easier.
In 2015, China filmed a documentary, of how China’s high- speed rail had changed the lives of its people.
There was a story about a Malaysian student, Shafiq, who was studying in China.
His aspiration is to become a diplomat. The high-speed rail carries his dream and takes him around China to experience the history, culture and customs in different regions. I have faith that one day, Malaysia will achieve its dream of high-speed trains.
I also firmly believe that by means of collaboration with China and the wisdom of the Malaysian people, Malaysia will soon be able to master the technology of high-speed rail construction and operations.
During this Chinese New Year, too, I witnessed the shared experience of homecoming, and the shared aspiration of the people of China and Malaysia. Both countries want the best for their people.
The Chinese and Malaysian governments have formulated ambitious plans for their respective long-term development and we will keep striding forward in this historical journey of national rejuvenation and progress.
As Malaysia’s strategic partner, China is willing to work with Malaysia to foster closer ties.
Malaysia and China complement one another. Both have a common aim, to seek prosperity, and development for the betterment of the people.
The writer, Bai Tian, is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to Malaysia