Children dressed in tiger costumes perform in New Year celebrations in BeijingPhoto: AP
Train and bus stations overflowed and airports were packed on Saturday as tens of millions of Chinese rushed home to be with their families for the start of the lunar New Year holiday and the Year of the Tiger.
The annual holiday is the most important of the year in China, with families expected to welcome in the New Year at midnight on Saturday with a roar of fireworks that will last for hours.
It is the only time in the year when China's massive army of migrant workers, who work on building sites and in factories in major cities, get a chance to return home to see their families.
The year of the tiger is believed to bring with it mythical heroic powers, even if soothsayers say it is an inauspicious one for marriage.
The year is seen as being good for the economy.
Beijing and the commercial capital Shanghai reverberated with huge, ad hoc firework displays and the sound of firecrackers, whose smoke filled the streets.
Firecrackers are believed to scare off evil spirits and entice the god of wealth to people's doorsteps once New Year's Day arrives.
Celebrations will carry on into the early hours of Sunday, officially the first day of the Lunar New Year.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned his people to keep a "sober mind" about the challenges ahead in the new year as the country welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Tiger with noisy celebrations.
"In 2010, China will face a more complicated situation, both at home and abroad," the state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Wen as saying, in remarks carried in major newspapers.
People must "keep a sober mind and an enhanced sense of anxiety about lagging behind", he added.
Wen, who in previous years has spent the holiday with everyone from Aids patients to survivors of 2008's devastating Sichuan earthquake, this year visited a drought-struck part of the southern region of Guangxi, state television said.