China tones down Lunar New Year celebrations

China Featured - February 11th, 2013

Even as fireworks lit up China’s skies to ring in the Lunar New Year, signs of restraint reverberated through the streets of Beijing amid government calls for frugality and efforts to curb air pollution.

State-owned companies and government bodies dramatically scaled back their celebrations for the new year, in line with an official push for frugality amid a crackdown on corruption, state media reports.

According to the city government, sales of fireworks ahead of the holiday week plunged 37% compared with the same period last year, from 410,000 cartons to just 260,000. Almost 60% of restaurants, especially high-end ones, suffered cancelled reservations, the China Cuisine Association said.

The fireworks barrage – a tradition to celebrate renewal and ward off evil spirits – was evidently muted this year but the smoke caused concentrations of PM 2.5 to shoot up to 570 micrograms per cubic liter of air an hour before midnight.

Last year, the measurement of PM 2.5 exceeded 300 micrograms from about 7pm on Lunar New Year’s eve and reached 1,593 micrograms when the clock stuck 12, The Asahi Shimbun reports.

The Beijing Daily, the city government’s official newspaper, carried appeals last week for residents to hold off on fireworks, saying it would significantly worsen levels. Beijing plunged in toxic smog twice in January, with levels of air pollution going off the scale.

Critics say the government’s campaign against corruption and wasteful spending will only address superficial issues and urged fundamental changes to the Chinese political system such as strengthening the rule of law, according to Financial Times.