BEIJING -- China greeted the Year of the Horse on Thursday night with a
deafening barrage of fireworks and firecrackers, though the customary
display was slightly muted due to government campaigns against
pollution, waste and corruption.
The sound and fury reached their
most intense around midnight of the Lunar New Year's Eve in China's
traditional calendar as citizens welcomed the "Spring Festival," China's
most important holiday. The explosive fireworks are believed to banish
evil spirits and ensure good fortune in the year ahead.
fireworks firms may see their fortunes ebb in the new year. Many
companies report lower sales this year after government officials and
green groups asked people not to add polluting pyrotechnics to China's
already smoggy skies.
The ruling Communist Party has also cracked down on wasteful public
spending, which in the past has included fireworks, and corruption.
a street-side stall in southeast Beijing, Panda Fireworks saleswoman
Zhang Xiaolian said their sales volume had fallen sharply compared to
"There are less orders from state-owned companies and
government departments, and many people realized fireworks could harm
our air quality," said Zhang, 46. "I welcome our new leaders'
anti-corruption policies. I wish our country could be more stable and
richer in the future."
Fireworks brands available in Beijing this
week include "Tokyo Big Explosions" and "I love the Diaoyu Islands,"
both introduced last year to capitalize on Chinese anger with Japan over
a territorial dispute regarding the Japanese-controlled islands that
Japan calls the Senkakus.
Families squeezed aboard packed public
transport to get home for the all-important reunion dinner. The
government estimates a total of 3.62 billion trips will be made during
the Spring Festival rush Jan. 16 to Feb. 24.
The next seven days
form the core holiday for most people and businesses. Officials are on
alert to prevent China's mass annual migration from further spreading
the H7N9 bird flu virus.
Besides eating traditional foods, including chickens, the main
carriers of H7N9 virus, many Chinese watched the New Year's Eve
entertainment gala by state broadcaster CCTV.
director Feng Xiaogang was brought in to liven up the annual staple, but
the long show still featured propaganda-heavy numbers such as uniformed
soldiers and ethnic minorities singing the praises of the "Chinese
Dream," the pet project of Communist Party boss Xi Jinping.
Many Chinese hopes for the year include that Jinping will deliver on promises of significant economic reform.
top wish is that the education system could become more equal in the
future," said Yu Dejun, 35, shopping for fireworks with his 9-year-old
Despite 12 years of working in Beijing for a water treatment
firm, Yu is denied full rights including education for his family like
other migrants who moved from their hometown to the capital for work
without the necessary official permission.
"My son will have to
attend college entrance exams back home," he said. "I really wish he
could take the exams in Beijing when he's 18."
The issue is a
touchy one for the ruling unelected leadership. Xu Zhiyong, a legal
scholar and prominent rights activist, was jailed by a Beijing court
Sunday for four years and among the his crimes was organizing a protest
by migrant worker parents in favor of equal education for their
Another fireworks buyer Thursday highlighted widespread concerns
about toxic foodstuffs in China, where some producers ignore safety
standards to cut costs.
"I wish Chinese milk companies could
produce safe and good quality milk for kids, then I don't have to buy
expensive, imported foreign brands," said Hu Xiulian, 32, mother of a