Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Year Fireworks Caused Some Casualties in Beijing

Firecrackers and fireworks bring joy as well as problems to Chinese cities during the holiday

One person died and over 100 visited hospitals in Beijing on the night of Chinese New Year Eve, due to injuries caused by fireworks and firecrackers, a local newspaper reported. At least one person had to have his eyeball removed. Fireworks also caused more than 100 fire incidents in the city on the Eve.

This year is only the second year that Beijing city allowed residents to set off fireworks and firecrackers on their own in the urban area and nearby suburbs.

Last year, firecrackers caused 384 fire incidents in Beijing during the two-week holiday period, as well as over 800 injuries resulting in hospital visits. But there was no major fire, and no reported death or serious injuries that led to eyeball removal.

The old Chinese saying says an old year is driven away in the sounds of firecrackers, and Chinese people set off numerous firecrackers every year during the Chinese New Year, especially on the Eve. Almost every household would light up at least one set of firecrackers before the midnight on the Eve, to send off an old year and welcome a new one with hope and excitement.

But firecrackers and fireworks were completely banned in Beijing’s urban area and its vicinity for 12 consecutive Chinese New Year from 1994 through 2005. Over 300 major cities in China also adopted a similar ban, citing several sins of firecrackers and fireworks, including injuring people, causing fire, polluting the air and making too much noise.

Despite the prohibition, many people simply cannot endure a Chinese New Year without the exciting sound of firecrackers. Illegal selling, buying and setting off of firecrackers persisted throughout the years, as well as consequent casualties and fire.

Meanwhile, the public and scholars, including famous writers, condemned the firecracker ban as killing an ancient Chinese tradition while depriving people of the joy and atmosphere of the traditional festival. For a time, the call for recovering the “taste of Chinese New Year” was prevalent.

Beijing city government finally lifted the ban prior to the 2006 Chinese New Year, and about 200 other cities followed the suit.

The prohibition in Beijing was replaced by limitations. Now people are allowed to set off firecrackers and fireworks only from the New Year Eve to the Lantern Festival, or the fifteenth day of the holiday, but mostly confined to the evening hours. Meanwhile, historical sites, transportation terminals, hospitals and forests are among the locations that do not allow the set-off.

Lift of the ban also boosted the firework business. This year, fireworks for sale in Beijing are worth 114 million yuan (about $14.25 million), and sales have gone very well, according to local newspapers. Last year, the sales amounted 55 million yuan (about $7 million).

To keep the supply under control, Beijing government only gave permit to one company to import firework products from other regions and then provide them to retailers in the capital. All retailers, either individual-run stands or chain super markets, have to get a license from the government to sell the products legally.

Now millions of people can again enjoy the ancient Chinese New Year entertainment, although besides human injury and fire, the activity also generate other problems, such as tons of trashes, including ruins of firework packages and the paper skin of firecrackers, to be cleaned up.

More than 20,000 city janitors worked overnight in Beijing on Chinese New Year Eve to get rid of the leftover of the intense firecracker set-off that night. By the next morning, over 900 tons of firecracker trashes were cleaned up, according to a local newspaper.

Dealing with such problems has become a major task for city governments around the country during the big holiday.


Xiao Zhu said...

Don't forget that it should be one person not one people.

jd said...

I'm coming at this from the other side - an American now in Beijing. The fireworks have been completely nuts all around me, and for some reason tonight has featured almost constant noise since about 7pm. This after a few nights of relative calm (meaning only frequent explosions instead of constant roar).

My blog is also here on Blogspot: Rocket to China.

Josie Liu said...

Hi xiao zhu,
thanks for the careful reading. yeah, i shall correct it and keep that in mind.

Josie Liu said...

The reason that fireworks were pretty intense on Thursday was because it was the fifth day of the lunar New Year, which is traditionally deemed as the day to welcome god of fortune and drive away poverty. In this ritual, a lot of firecrackers are essential. So hang in there, JD.

jd said...

Thanks for stopping by my place. Blogspot was blocked to web users in China for a while last year, but is not any longer.

I wrote about it:
It's gone (10/29)
It's back (11/22)