Why Shanghai is Finally Cracking Down on Fireworks

By Virginia Werner, February 2, 2016

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Citizens of Shanghai will have to celebrate Spring Festival this month with a quieter, albeit haze-free week of festivities, thanks to the latest ban on fireworks approved by city legislature last December.

This isn’t the first time our beloved metropolis has cracked down on the purchase and detonation of fireworks within city limits. In 2002, local government began tackling the problem of illegal firework manufacturing by allowing fireworks producers to compete for a limited number of licenses to sell their explosive wares – only after proving that their products met safety and aesthetic standards. This year, the Shanghai Fire Control Bureau cut its number of issued permits in half from 2015, capping numbers at a mere 700 fireworks vendors.

Every year, substandard fireworks contribute to numerous injuries, accidental fires and, sadly, some deaths. The biggest threat posed by the staggering amount of Chinese New Year pyrotechnics, however, is the thick, omnipresent smog that forms from the explosions – a major contributor to the rise of PM levels. Like we need that on top of all those already heavily polluted days we have to endure.

Fireworks along the Huangpu River

Fireworks along the Huangpu River.

The ban on fireworks has been a highly debated topic in recent years, as sparklers and bangers have been a longstanding tradition for China’s most important holiday, believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Times are a-changin’, however. Despite misgivings about eliminating this aspect of Chinese culture, a survey by the Shanghai Bureau of Statistics in December reported that more than 85 percent of citizens say they are taking the health threat seriously and won’t be buying fireworks during this holiday.

And while firework bans have been routinely ignored in the past – punishments for refusing to comply with the law have generally merely consisted of a slap on the wrist with the confiscation of the offending fireworks – this time around penalties are going to really hit Chinese New Year celebrators’ wallets – with fines up to RMB500 for anyone caught setting off fireworks and RMB100,000 (double what it was last year) for those found guilty of storing or selling fireworks within the Outer Ring Road.

Shanghai isn’t alone. Earlier in January, Henan province’s capital city Zhengzhou also announced a stricter, more comprehensive ban on fireworks for this month’s celebrations, while Beijing, where the fireworks ban was lifted back in 2005, declared that all firework sales will be banned if smog conditions indicate an orange or red alert.

So how to compensate for the lack of pretty fires in the sky and endless smoke to fill up our lungs? Electronic fireworks, or ‘e-fireworks,’ are the answer. The devices, which are experiencing rising popularity, produce the same noise and flashing lights, without the hazardous chemicals. Buy them legally on Taobao, or check out your local street vendor (not so legal maybe?). 

[Images via Metro, China.org.cn]

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