Welcome to the Year 4705, a time for celebrations, firecrackers and renewed expectations.
Formally, the New Year, numbered 4705 in the Chinese calendar, began at midnight on Saturday, February 17.
As many people know, the Chinese zodiac rotates annually through years named by the Gods after twelve animals – the rat, ox, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, rabbit, dog and, this year, the pig.
Less well known is that there are in addition five earthly elements which also rotate annually – water, wood, fire, soil and now gold.
So this year is the Year of the Golden Pig – the most auspicious of all years, last occurring in 1947.
The pig itself is extremely symbolic for business activity and so a Golden Pig Year has extra special significance for those Birmingham organisations planning or developing business relationships in China.
And those of us with bigger ears and noses – often the Chinese characterisation of Westerners, or Laoyi – are seen to share these features with the pig, and are therefore doubly advantaged.
Not only is it the Chinese New Year, it is also the Chinese Spring Festival and a time when the whole country practically shuts down.
Formally identified as a national holiday for the week or so around the New Year, it has become extended to at least a fortnight up until the end of the month.
In practical terms the holiday period can affect businesses, schools and governments for even longer – from February 3 to March 14 – because this is China's primary holiday, the Chunyun.
This is the period when migrant workers, students and others living in the industrialised cities feel obliged to travel home to their villages and families, to celebrate this most important of Chinese festivals.
Travelling mainly by trains and buses (air travel is far too expensive for most people, and the country roads are unreliable for cars even if you could afford one), nearly 200 million Chinese will be on the move to and from their home towns during this period.
Tickets for the railways are at a premium. People will queue for hours, returning day after day, to secure a standing-only ticket for a journey of 12-36 hours.
Think of Birmingham Airport at Easter and multiply the crush and the waiting a hundredfold. Think of France effectively shut down for August, and apply this to a nation of 1.3 billion people.
The impacts for Birmingham business involved with China can be critical.
Supplies will be interrupted and delayed. Shipping and transportation costs will more than double. Communications become difficult, if not impossible.
People with key skills travel away – and may not come back to your partner's company.
Hospitals, police and other community services are radically slimmed down. And even your Western expatriate contacts will have left, to avoid the disturbance.
The secret is in the forward planning, the scheduling, the risk management, and customer education, until it all comes back together again in March. The beneficial Year of the Pig can really get into gear then.
And the decision to work with China – while sorely challenged by New Year's major disruption – may again be vindicated.
Bill Donnelly is director of the Links Centre for Business with China, www.thelinkscentre.com.