New Year's holiday sees spirituality in demand

By Bao Daozu (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-10 07:46
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BEIJING - Tens of thousands of people visited temples to burn incense and pray for good fortune during the Spring Festival holiday, amid a rising demand for spiritual comfort throughout the country.

On Feb 3, about 66,000 people went to the Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing. That was about 3,000 more than had gone on the first day of the holiday in 2010, and half of the visitors who came in 2011 were young , according to the temple's management committee.

Feb 3 marked the first day of the Spring Festival this year, officially starting the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac.

Worshippers began waiting outside the temple in the early morning, stamping their feet to keep warm, all in the hopes of being the first to burn incense in the new year. They stood in a line that had extended to one kilometer in length by 6:30 am, when the temple started selling tickets - half an hour earlier than usual, Radio Beijing reported.

Many of the faithful believe the Buddha will take special care of the person who is the first to burn incense in a new year.

This year, a young man surnamed Zhang, who lives in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, came to wait outside the Yonghegong Lama Temple around 2 pm on Feb 2 and managed to be the first in line. Several people asked if he'd like to sell his position, for which the highest bid was 20,000 yuan ($3,033).

A woman from East China's Fujian province said her family made a special trip to Beijing to burn incense at Yonghegong and pray for her daughter, who is going to take the college entrance exam this year.

Putuo Mountain, another Buddha halidome in East China's Zhejiang province, was also the site of a heavy turnout, accommodating nearly 30,000 visitors by 4 pm on Feb 3, a 30 percent increase from the previous year.

"In the past few years, people paid relatively more attention to the economy, which led to a barren spirituality," Hu Shoujun, a sociology professor at the Shanghai-based Fudan University, told China Daily on Wednesday. "Recently, people with material satisfactions have started to pursue spiritual comforts."

He said there is a scarcity of houses of worship, which contributes to the crowding at existing temples.

Zhao Yinan and Cao Yin contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 02/10/2011 page4)