A Year of Anniversaries and Uncertainties

ALBERTA – As China enters the “Year of the Ox,” there is much to reflect on from the past 12 months and even more to speculate about regarding the coming year. 2008 began with devastating snowstorms that paralyzed most of central and southern China’s transport system, interrupting lives and causing severe material damage. Then came the riots in Tibet, which caught the government off guard, followed by embarrassing protests over China’s Olympic torch relay in several Western and Asian countries.

Then, as Chinese were wondering why 2008, a year of supposed good fortune marked by the lucky number eight, had started with so much misfortune, a deadly earthquake struck Sichuan province, killing 80,000 people and leaving millions homeless. Emerging more united from this tragedy, the country welcomed the world to the long-anticipated Olympics, which were remarkably successful, but were soon superseded by the tainted-dairy-product scandal in which many babies became ill, and some died.

In contrast to last year, when the rush home for the lunar New Year celebration was hampered by freak storms, this year millions of migrant workers have already returned to their rural homes. Many will be staying there, because the global economic downturn has hit China hard, costing them their jobs.

Littered with a host of extremely sensitive anniversaries, 2009 could prove even more dramatic and unpredictable than 2008. Fast approaching is not only the March anniversary of last year’s disturbances in Tibet, but also the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan unrest in 1959 that led to the exile of the Dalai Lama and his supporters.