BEIJING -- Millions clapped their hands in prayer and burned incense sticks at Buddhist and Taoist temples across the Chinese-speaking world Tuesday to celebrate the lunar Year of the Horse.
The visits followed a night of popping firecrackers, clanging gongs and colorful dragon dances in cities and Chinatowns throughout Asia. Images of horses -- a symbol of strength and success -- appeared on skyscrapers, billboards and parade floats around the region.
The Year of the Horse comes every 12 years.
China's leaders formally celebrated Monday night in the red-decked Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.
Premier Zhu Rongji proclaimed 2001 a year of great accomplishments, including China's entry into the World Trade Organization and clinching of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
In some areas, the approach of midnight on Monday -- and with it the year 2002 by the traditional lunar calendar -- brought a roar of fireworks explosions strong enough to rattle windows and shake homes.
Dressed to celebrate
Beijing's night sky burst with red, yellow and green as residents set off private displays of fireworks, ignoring a ban covering all but a few public places.
It was quieter Tuesday morning, when thousands gathered within the red-painted walls of Yonghegong Tibetan Buddhist temple -- one of several temples in the Chinese capital thronged with revelers.
Children were dressed in head-to-toe red, blue or yellow satin embroidered suits. Adults also wore brightly colored Chinese jackets as they placed incense sticks into large bronze cauldrons and summoned the gods by clapping their hands.
Traditional prayers call for health, wealth and a peaceful life.
Others stayed home to watch a 24-hour music show featuring patriotic songs by uniformed army choirs and troupes of costumed children waving flags with military precision.
In China's modern commercial hub of Shanghai, cell phone networks struggled to keep up with almost 4 million calls and messages from New Year's well-wishers in the 30 minutes around midnight, the Jiefang Daily newspaper reported.
Shanghai also allowed 125 prison inmates to celebrate with their families for good behavior, government-run media said.
Despite the festivities, some Chinese astrologers warned the Year of the Horse will be a "blind year" -- a bad time in world economics and politics when couples should avoid getting married.
"Financially this year is very bad, because of our big brother, America," said Kuan Siew Meow, an ethnic Chinese astrologer in Singapore. "In Afghanistan, it will continue through the year. In the Year of the Horse I don't see any immediate peace."
But most of the region celebrated anyway. Hong Kong's stock and gold markets shut down for three days Tuesday, with tens of thousands of people lining downtown streets to see a parade featuring lion dancers, dragon floats and the San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders.
Hundreds also gathered at the Tree of Wishes in Tai Po, a village in Hong Kong's New Territories. Tradition holds that wishes written on orange or red paper and thrown at the tree will come true in the new year.
In Taiwan, millions prayed at Buddhist and Taoist temples amid incense smoke, food offerings and horse-shaped lanterns. People also lined up outside street-corner lottery booths to spend New Year's "lucky money" on tickets for a possible record $7 million jackpot.