Firecrackers reignite perennial New Year debate








NANCHANG  |   2015-02-10 23:52:06


Firecrackers reignite

perennial New Year debate


By Zhong Qun, Wu Huiying, Qin Hong and Liu Shuo



Firecrackers are a big noise at any Chinese celebration, but in recent years, the once propitious symbol has become a short fuse leading to a fiery argument.


The debate erupts around this time every year. Lunar New Year is for firecrackers what the Superbowl is for guacamole. The rumbling controversy erupted once again after a picture of two street sweepers went viral on the Internet. In the picture (left), the couple hold a poster asking people to light fewer firecrackers and allow them to go home early to their own celebrations this year.

Street sweepers have to work long, extra hours at New Year, which falls on February 19 this year, clearing up literally tonnes of detritus from millions of the pesky little explosives. People traditionally lit firecrackers to “scare away evil spirits” and, though next to no-one believes this superstitious stuff anymore, old habits, especially such fun old habits, die hard.

The Chinese have a soft spot for poor people working hard and some netizens have proposed a complete moratorium on firecrackers to alleviate pressure on the workers and create a better environment. Scores of diehard traditionalists, it turns out, have no intention whatsoever of guarding their powder.


A resident of Xi’an, home to the terracotta army and some of the worst pollution in the country, described the choking air and noise induced by firecrackers as “..too much of a nuisance. And it’s really hard to clean up all the mess the pointless displays leave behind.”

According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, firecrackers during last year’s Lantern Festival, the end of Spring Festival, pushed PM 2.5 readings well past healthy levels in Beijing, Tianjin, Xi’an and their neighboring areas. In Xi’an, firework garbage was two or three times more than usual, putting huge pressure on street sweepers.

Even local governments have joined the anti-cracker campaign: Provinces like Hebei, Jiangxi, Shaanxi have restricted their use. Local governments can issues all the restrictions they like, but they are very difficult to execute in the middle of the frantic street parties that take place all across the nation.

Despite of environmental gripes and the standard set of “safety” concerns, there is no shortage of firecracker fundamentalists dedicated to preserving tradition in the face of legions of do-gooders.

“Spring Festival would not be Spring Festival without firecrackers” was a typical comment on Sina Weibo.

Experts like Rao Hui, chief environmental engineer in Nanchang City, Jiangxi Province, said new, less polluting firecrackers should be the way forward. “If the public uses green firecrackers that cause very little pollution and have less explosive force, the matter will soon be settled,” Rao said.

Wang Xinming, 29, an oil company employee from central China’s Henan Province, has been working to that very end, devising unorthodox firecrackers that are non-polluting to protect the environment and retain the festive atmosphere at the same time.

“My invention is not powered by explosives or electricity,” he said. “They are more beautiful than normal firecrackers. If customers want, the firecracker can spray fountains of water mist and even fragrance.”

Approved for patent in July, Wang’s firecracker uses a closed cavity which can be injected with air. Users just press a button and a small hole opens, through which compressed air discharges with an explosive sound.

Although the invention has not been mass produced, Wang sees great potential in the market.

“Some celebrations have drastic impact on our environment. If Wang’s invention can be mass produced, it’s another way for us to fight smog,” said Chen Ying of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.









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