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Setting off fireworks, a tradition to keep, or not?

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

02-09-2017 10:46 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Opinion Page commentator and editor

Beijing has evolved since my arrival here in October 2010. While the Chinese lunar New Year approached in 2017, there was an unusual silence on the streets of China’s capital city.

Yet in 2011 the Chinese nationwide would usher in new year festivities with a bang by setting off fireworks for a few weeks before the actual holiday even started.

In 2011, I was staying in Beijing during the Spring Festival. For two weeks leading up to the holiday, local residents could be observed setting off loud fireworks at all hours of the day and night.

Getting an early start

I first learned about the Chinese frenzy for fireworks one evening after eating at a Uyghur-style restaurant operated by a Muslim family from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwest China.

The Arab Spring had erupted and global fears spread that radical Islamists were conspiring to spread terrorism worldwide. I was following news updates as a Website English-language news editor for China Radio International.

Late at night, I walked outside the restaurant and heard what sounded like bombs. For a moment, I thought it was a terrorist attack.

But then I overheard two middle school boys laughing just down the block. One was holding fireworks, which looked like dynamite sticks, and the other kid was lighting them. They threw them in mid-air to explode for maximum effect.

Blasting off for 2011

Traditionally, ancient Chinese believe it’s necessary to set off loud fireworks on Chinese New Year’s Eve to frighten away demon spirits. Apparently in 2011, the “demon spirits” were swarming all over Beijing.

On the evening of Chinese New Year’s Eve, the fireworks displays were so amazing city-wide while the tourist spot Nanluoguxiang attracted the real fireworks fanatics.

The neighborhood is characterized for its coffee shops, pubs, restaurants and shops that target foreign-born customers. Meanwhile the Chinese took control of its alleyways, setting up fireworks that had been timed to set off at exactly midnight.

The massive fireworks display had lasted for nearly an hour. The crackling sounds were so unbelievable. If you were to audio-record the scene, the listener might conclude you were in the middle of a war zone.

Silence ensues

Nevertheless, all’s quiet on the Beijing front in 2017 in the two weeks leading up to the holiday. Meanwhile, the city of Beijing has discouraged setting off fireworks until the holiday officially begins on Chinese New Year Eve, Jan. 27.

The government has banned fireworks setting-off other than special occasions or important traditional festivals such as the Spring Festival, for environmental protection. Setting off fireworks is blamed for increasing smog, which is periodically getting very serious in the capital.

Since I am visiting my wife’s hometown, Fufeng Village, which is a two hours drive west of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. I don’t have the chance to witness the sparkling nights of explosions and fire hazards in Beijing, which, I know from my colleagues in Beijing, are indeed not “in full blasts” as previous years. 

But the villagers in Fufeng set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, Fufeng Village is an isolated farming community so they can’t match what I had witnessed at Nanluoguxiang in 2011.

But that’s fine, because the spirit of chasing away demons with explosions remains strong in the hearts of the Fufeng villagers.

Keep fireworks spirit alive

It’s no longer the same celebrating the Spring Festival in Beijing without the fireworks. Certainly, there are good reason to ban the traditional custom in the capital city.

It’s not the best idea to allow young children to light explosive fireworks, since they could have their fingers and hands blown off. Noise and air pollution can be disruptive for local residents as well.

Nonetheless, fireworks are a long-held Chinese tradition and setting off fireworks is still a way for them to enjoy the holiday season.



(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com)

Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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