Spring (March-April) and autumn (September-October) are the best times to visit China. Daytime temperatures range from 20 to 30 degrees Celsius in these seasons, but nights can be bitterly cold and it can be wet and miserable. Major public holidays, in particular Chinese New Year, are best avoided as it's difficult to get around and/or find accommodation.
Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) starts on the first day of the old lunar calendar - which usually falls in February. Although officially lasting only three days, many people take a week off. Ear plugs are handy at this time to dull the firecracker assaults, and prices of hotel rooms tend to go through the roof. The Lantern Festival isn't a public holiday, but it's big and it's colourful. It falls on the 15th day of the 1st moon (around mid-Feb to mid-March) and marks the end of the new-year celebrations. The famous lion dances occur throughout this period. Ching Ming (or Tomb Sweep Day) is in April, and sees Chinese families spend the day tending the graves of departed loved ones. Hong Kong hosts one of the liveliest annual Chinese celebrations - the Dragon Boat Festival. Usually held in June, the festival honours the poet Wut Yuan and features races between teams in long ornate canoes. Many Westerners take part in the races, but plenty of practice is needed to get all the paddles working as one.
Special prayers are held at Buddhist and Taoist temples on full-moon and sliver-moon days. Temple and moon-based festivities include Guanyin's Birthday (late March to late April), Mazu's Birthday (May or June), Water-Splashing Festival (13-15 April), Ghost Month (late August to late September), Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (October) and the Birthday of Confucius (28 September).