Get ready for it: This year’s crop of fireworks goes on sale in Beijing on Saturday Jan 25, although forecasts indicate the traditional Chinese maelstrom in the capital will be on the decline for the fourth consecutive year due to rising environmental concerns.
Fireworks are one of those polarizing issues: depending on your perspective it’s either a venerated tradition and a huge f***load of fun; or it’s a massive, cacophonous waste of money and generator of trash, noise and the inevitable bevy of blown-off fingers.
But no matter where you fall in the debate – as pyromaniac tradition-upholder or anti-explosion curmudgeon – there’s no doubt that DIY explosions are on the decline in the Jing.
The first shipment of 200,000 crates of 2014 fireworks began making their way into the city this week in specially-designed trucks, on their way to stocking the 1,178 street side retailers that will sell all manner of at-home explosives beginning Jan 25.
Nevertheless, this is a far cry from a time as recent as 2010 when sales were skyrocketing. Fireworks sales in Beijing have been in continuous decline for the past four years, and the number of sales outlets has been halved during that period. Local wholesalers in Beijing expect a continued decline this year, with forecasts of selling 20 percent less than last year.
A population weary of air pollution (and increasingly wealthy enough to pack up and spend the holiday somewhere else) is partly to blame for the decline, and although the city dares not outright ban this time-honored method of welcoming the new year again, they are putting in place measures to tamp down excessive exuberance.
In fact, pollution concerns may put an official kibosh on celebrating the traditional way entirely. Late last year the city instituted a four-level air-alert warning system to clue people in to when it’s hazardous outside. City officials say that under a Red or Orange bad-air alert (in layman’s terms, this means if the Air Quality Index (AQI) rating is forecast to be 201 or above for three consecutive days), retailers will be forced to close and a ban on lighting off fireworks will go into effect. China Daily reports that this will be enforced by local police and volunteers, and violators of the policy face fines of RMB 200 and up to 15 days in jail.
Perhaps the turning point on fireworks in the capital was 2009. With the city flush with pride after a successful hosting of the Olympics and not yet feeling the pinch of the worldwide financial crisis, Beijing was particularly alive with celebratory explosions – so much so that an overly-ambitious, high-ordinance display organized on the grounds of the new CCTV tower ended with its companion building going up in a towering inferno. Five years later, the building, a Mandarin Oriental hotel, is still not open.
Meanwhile, the China Daily also reports that several models of eco-friendly fireworks will hit the market; this season, some sellers are promising that 10% of their stock will be low-emissions models that leave less paper waste and give off less sulphuric smoke.
While you’re at it, why not have all the irritation of traditional foreworks with none of the fuss? Try purchasing a reusable string of “electronic” fireworks as shown in the video above.
But then again, who’s kidding who? Sometimes foul air, mounds of garbage, and a lifetime of tinnitus is the price you pay for a good week of exercising your inner pyromaniac. And with that in mind, here’s a few selections of good old-fashioned loud-and-dirty fireworks from Beijing wholesaler Dodo Fireworks that you can set off this year (PS: names aside, Dodo’s website does not describe exactly what happens after you actually put a lighter to these mofos):
1. I Love the Diaoyu Islands
2. Don’t Explode, I Want Peace!
3. I Am a Genius
4. The Teaser & Shock Your Little Friend
5. Oh My Lady Gaga
6. The China Dream
7. One Night in Houhai
8. Flaming Lips
9. Beijing Love Story
10. The Fast & the Furious
11. Yes, I Do