Chinese welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Snake with raucous celebrations, setting off firecrackers and sending fireworks blazing into the sky to bring good fortune.
Celebrations will carry on into the early hours of tomorrow, officially the first day of the Lunar New Year.
Residents of Beijing braved freezing temperatures to let off brightly coloured fireworks.
A plea by the government to set off fewer fireworks to help deal with Beijing's notorious air pollution seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Firecrackers are believed to scare off evil spirits and entice the god of wealth to people's doorsteps once New Year's Day arrives.
China's cosmopolitan business hub, Shanghai, saw similar scenes.
People born in the year of the snake are believed to be thoughtful and stylish yet complex characters.
Taboos around the period include crying on New Year's Day means you will cry for the rest of the year, and washing your hair signifies washing away good luck.
Woe betide those who clean on new year's day, for you will be sweeping away good fortune in the year ahead.
Maintaining a tradition of leaders visiting ordinary folk at this time of year, Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, who was born in the year of the snake, and takes over as president in March from Hu Jintao, met subway construction workers in Beijing ahead of the week-long holiday.
Practitioners of the ancient art of feng shui say the year ahead will see financial markets slither higher as optimism grows, though the risk of disasters and territorial disputes in Asia also looms.
The lunar new year is marked by the largest annual mass migration on earth, as hundreds of millions of migrant workers pack trains, buses, aircraft and boats to spend the festival with their families.
For many Chinese people, this is their only holiday of the year.
Almost half of Beijing's population of 20 million have left the city for the holiday, according to state media.