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For the second year in a row in Beijing, an index measuring pollution produced by the ignition of fireworks will be added to the daily meteological forecast to state whether citizens are legally allowed to set off these annual holiday traditions, a policy that effectively clamps down on the use of fireworks in Beijing.

The regions of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province will coordinate their efforts by simultaneously broadcasting daily reports twice a day until February 14 while other efforts will be taking place nationwide. This “firework index” will be separated into four category levels by which the highest classification will indicate fireworks are not permitted to be set off whatsoever.

Also working to reduce the use of fireworks is the Department of Culture for Beijing. The department has been suggesting citizens take a proactive role in protecting the environment, and urge city residents to not to set off fireworks nor to burn paper offerings, actions that the Ministry of Environmental Protection confirms as contributing to pollution and PM 2.5 emissions.

As socially-conscious as these efforts are, these protocols fly in the face of age-old tradition. Some city residents are adamant that firecrackers are integral towards the holiday spirit of Spring Festival festivities, and that it is impossible to break a tradition that is passed down from one’s ancestors. It would appear this “War on Chinese Christmas” is a violation upon Chinese culture itself.

Lest we forget, the Chinese New Year tradition of making loud noises and coloring everything a festive hue of red originates from fear. As the myth goes, a monster called the “Nian” – the same name as the Chinese word for year – was terrorizing the populace with its evil, non–Chinese ways. When a brave man who knew how to party advised the use of loud noises and bright, festive colors to drive away this evil, and a tradition was born. Thereafter, it has become a common belief that setting off fireworks at Chinese New Year will ensure good fortune for the upcoming year.

However, it seems everything old is new and up for renegotiation: unbreakable traditions are more malleable than they would seem. The modern suggestion to use “electronic firecrackers” that don’t explode has seen a huge surge in Taobao search results recently, up 371% from last year. More directly, local firework retailers are complaining that sales are way down this year, a trend that has happened in recent years; furthermore, a policy of requiring buyers to register their ID when purchasing more than five cases of fireworks may also hamper sales.

The Chinese public has been vocal with its displeasure when it doesn’t agree with laws, something we previously saw with laws concerning amber lights and eating on subway trains. Other traditions like Chinese medicine has been changed somewhat with the modern acceptance of bear gall substitutes and the elimination of heavy metals; with such advances, it could be that we will be celebrating Chinese New Year in the future as a smokeless, environmentally-friendly event that still goes out with a bang.

Photo: BJ News