San Francisco celebrates Chinese New Year with first Chinese-American mayor 

If there is something that’s an annual constant, it’s that every Chinese New Year, the tradition stays the same — out with the old and in with the new.

Often the new looks a lot like the old, but this year is different. This year, the new will be truly groundbreaking.

On Saturday, The City’s first Chinese-American mayor, Ed Lee, will be the grand marshal of the Chinese New Year Parade.

“Being Grand Marshal for the Chinese New Year Parade is a special honor for me as one of the most watched parades in the world,” Lee wrote in an e-mail. “Here in San Francisco, Asian Pacific-Americans and especially Chinese-Americans have been an integral part of the history of this great city, building a community for all San Franciscans.”

Click on the photo to the right for a slideshow of parade preparation and a map of the parade route.

Born in Washington, Lee is the son of immigrants from Guangdong province in China. Lee was asked to be the parade’s grand marshal shortly after being sworn in as The City’s mayor last month.

“It’s a big deal,” Karen Eng, the parade’s public relations director said, of the parade being led by a Chinese-American mayor. “We’re just very happy. The timing couldn’t have been better.”

Parading through Chinatown in demonstration of Chinese culture has an extensive history of more than a century. Chinatown’s first parade dates back to 1858, when Chinese railroad workers marched to their own drums down Grant Avenue, which was then a dirt road, Eng said.

This year’s parade, which celebrates the Year of the Rabbit, is expected to go out with a bang courtesy of 600,000 firecrackers accompanying the giant hare float finale.

With about 1 million people expected to attend the parade Saturday night, its international audience will include spectators from the Philippines, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and Mexico, Eng said.


Milestones for the Chinese New Year Parade

- 1858: San Francisco Chinese railroad workers wanting to celebrate the new year march down a dirt road that was Grant Avenue beating drums.

- 1958: 100 years after the first parade, The City’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce officially begins directing the parade, adding street fair festivities.

- 1987: KTVU broadcasts the parade for the first time.

- 2010: The first time The City’s parade is streamed live for the first time via, a Chinese website, making it viewable to those in China and neighboring counties.


Parade by the numbers

600,000 firecrackers
25 decorated floats
7 lion dance groups
20 elementary schools marching in parade
5,000 parade participants

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