Chinese Lunar New Year: a hotbead of pyromania
Chinese Lunar New Year is just three days away and Beijing is once again preparing to become a hotbed of pyromania.
Residents have been busily stockpiling firecrackers to set off on Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve, which this year falls on February 13, and on New Year’s Day.
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is all about reuniting with family, and a typical Lunar New Year’s Eve might include a special dinner and setting off firecrackers at midnight to welcome in the new year, which this year will be the Year of the Tiger.
Many Chinese love firecrackers and have used them during celebrations for thousands of years. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that firecrackers used during last Chinese New Year produced explosions so powerful that at times Beijing had “the feel of downtown Baghdad”.
It all sounds like great fun in an unnerving, too-close-for-comfort sort of way. I find that simple tasks like crossing the road can sometimes be an extreme sport in this city, so the idea of a firecracker free-for-all makes me slightly anxious.
Perhaps this is because my experience with celebratory fireworks has been largely limited to strictly controlled displays in Sydney and the occasional handheld sparkler.
I vaguely remember firecracker night when I was growing up but those street parties stopped when firecrackers were banned in NSW after people blew off their fingers or suffered other injuries.
According to Beijing law, all residents can set off firecrackers on Lunar New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day. In addition, residents within the city’s urban area can set off firecrackers between 7am and midnight everyday until Lantern Festival on February 28.
The firecrackers are supposed to be used in restricted areas, including cordoned off streets, and you cannot use them near protected cultural buildings, public transport junctions and petrol stations but these can be difficult laws to police.
Today, the charred, skeletal remains of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the city’s central business district are a grim reminder about what can happen when fireworks get out of control.
The newly built, luxury hotel was destroyed in a fire that was sparked by an ambitious fireworks display last Spring Festival. The fireworks were organized nearby by State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) to mark the end of the Lunar New Year and it’s alleged organizers used powerful Class A fireworks that are banned within the city limits.
The fire killed 29-year-old firefighter Zhang Jianyong and seven other people. Xu Wen, a former CCTV senior official, has been in criminal detention for almost a year.
Official statistics show that firecrackers caused injuries to about 400 people during the Lunar New Year festival in 2008.
In 2006, the Beijing municipal government permitted the use of firecrackers during Spring Festival after continued public pressure. It had outlawed firecrackers entirely in 1993 because of safety and environmental concerns.
Factories and vendors that make or sell firecrackers must first obtain licenses from the government. However they are often expensive and there is a rampant underground trade of illegal fireworks, which are of poor quality and sold at half the price as those in licensed stores.
Firecracker activity is at its heaviest on Lunar New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, on the fifth day of the new year which is believed to be the birthday of the God of Wealth, and on Lantern Festival.
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