Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fireworks fixation flickers long past New Year's holiday

The weekslong holiday encompassing Chinese New Year has now concluded. Most of those who spent hours journeying across China for the Spring Festival are back to work in Beijing.

About one year after a China Central Television tower was engulfed in flames after a fireworks display went badly awry during the lunar new year festivities, Chinese people's enthusiasm with fireworks showed no sign of abatement.

Fireworks are a key feature of many countries' New Year celebrations. Iconic images from around the world, such as the grand pyrotechnics display atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge, spring to mind. Indeed, most major cities in the world have their own unique display to herald the New Year. Chinese New Year, however, is something different. Day and night for a week (and a few extra days tacked on the end to infuriate those back to work), the lower atmosphere and eardrums are pounded as rocket after rocket are fired off. It's the aural equivalent of being under enemy fire.

Exaggeration aside, Chinese people really do seem to put their all into celebratory fireworks, from young teenagers with their boxes of small firecrackers to full-on mortar shells worthy of a professional display. Of course, fireworks are not without their downsides. They are incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands or set off in the wrong situation. Those who don't follow the safety instructions are particularly at risk to themselves and others.

Hundreds of injuries and fires recorded in the Beijing area over the festival period. Illegal fireworks and those with scant regard for buildings in the vicinity were the main culprits.

Fireworks fixation flickers long past New Year's holiday

The constant bombardment of the senses, coupled with the fear of fire and injury, becomes wearisome by the end of the week. Late-night fireworks during the following week must certainly fracture neighbor relations - those setting them off seemingly oblivious to anyone's interests but their own.

Indeed, where fireworks are concerned antisocial behavior seems to prevail. Irresponsible use of fireworks causes considerable damage. Equally, the aftermath demands a herculean cleanup operation, considering the general waste and spent debris that litters almost every street. Spent red cartridges and other such refuse that crunches underfoot are piled in the streets of otherwise pleasant residential areas. Forty tons of such residue were removed from the streets after the welcoming of the God of Wealth on Feb 18.

Fireworks had been banned in Beijing for 12 years until 2005, when the authorities relaxed the restriction in exchange for other laws on public events. Fireworks within the 5th Ring Road are only permitted in the 15 days post-Chinese New Year, but some argue it provides too many days for the activity.

With each passing day the fireworks subside somewhat, but still annoy those attempting to return to work in peace. "I enjoy the fireworks around Chinese New Year. It's Chinese cultural tradition," said Tian Xiaojing, a Beijinger. "I wouldn't mind a good night's sleep now that I'm back to work, though."

It's a view many share.

Still many Beijing residents believe that despite fireworks' negatives, cultural tradition should prevail. The fireworks provide a symbolic gesture toward the festival atmosphere. Chinese New Year would lose its unique personality if fireworks were removed from the celebrations, they suggest. Striking a happy medium between those who favor fireworks and their foes could eventually erupt into a conundrum for the government. After the trial of those allegedly involved in illegal fireworks around the CCTV tower, it's clear that a balance must be found between personal enjoyment and individual responsibility.

The writer is a freelance columnist from Britain.


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