source: Wenhui Bao, February 10, 2011
As ordinary people have more and more money lining their pockets and different customs come and go, the traditional Spring Festival, with a history of over a thousand years, is now evolving into a Chinese-style parade. However, behind the reunions and the festivities, there is still an unharmonious undertone. Large refuse piles and frequent disasters signal a heavy ecological burden. A survey revealed that many intelligent people feel compelled to speak out: It is time to change our way of thinking about the way New Year is traditionally celebrated, to comply with changing times. Can we not be a bit more innovative in order to have a low carbon “Chinese year”?
The ecological pain of a carnival for 1.3 billion people
The sound of firecrackers sends off the old year – a custom that has existed for centuries. For today’s 1.3 billion Chinese it is still the best way to ward off bad luck.
"To welcome in the God of Wealth on the fifth day of the New Year in Shanghai, firecrackers have been continuously going off outside for two hours. Even though it’s deep into the night, the sound of firecrackers has refused to subside. It is far louder than lunar New Year’Eve was,” writes netizen lawrencechou on the Chinese micro-blog Weibo.
According to data from the Department of Environmental Conservation on February 3 (lunar New Year’s Day), daily air quality reports from 86 cities reveal that 56 cities’ air quality is either equivalent to or worse than minor contamination.. Nanchang, Anshan and many other cities are rated as "heavily polluted". Nanjing, Chengdu and other cities are rated as having "medium to severe pollution".
Data from the Ministry of Public Security Fire Department also shows that there were 5945 fire incidents nationwide, which directly led to more than 13 millionyuan’s worth of property loss from midnight on February 2 to 8am on February 3. Inappropriate use of fireworks and firecrackers was cited as the major cause of fires. Hundreds of fire incidents were caused by setting off fireworks in some capital cities. At the stroke of midnight on lunar New Year, a major fire was caused by fireworks set off in the Wan Xin International hotel, the “platinum five-star international building” in Shenyang. Fortunately there were no casualties, but it caused numerous other losses. On February 5, six firemen lost their lives while tackling a forest fire in Cunan county, Hangzhou. Fireworks were the main cause according to the preliminary investigation.
The number of high-rises is increasing gradually, which brings more difficulties to fire control.
In a residential quarter full of tall buildings in Wuhan, fireworks caused a fire on a 12th floor balcony on New Year's Eve. A security guard quickly discovered the fire but was helpless to stem the blaze. When the local fire brigade arrived, a family had already been burnt to death.For several days afterwards, the sound of fireworks ceased for the thousand-plus residents around this courtyard.
Every New Year, the number of relatives visiting loved ones is increasing, while the amount of exhaust fumes and household waste reach breaking point. Shanghai alone produces nearly 10,000 tonnes of household waste during this period – not to mention the high price of family reunion dinners and other forms of waste. A sea of used firecracker cases becomes the landscape of many places nationwide. They are littered everywhere, creating a red carpet on the roads or in front of buildings. Reporters see this phenomenon in their own communities, where mounds of red waste can be as much as a meter tall. According to data compiled by the Wuhan Management Bureau, Wuhan’s sanitation workers had to remove almost a ton of empty firecracker cases from their street on New Year’s Eve alone.
During the Chinese New Year, every large temple is full of people asking for blessings. "There are firecrackers everywhere, the deafening sound of gongs and drums, joss sticks and candles being burnt, and the air is full of smoke," says an emotional Mrs. Wu, who visited a temple in Wuhan.
"Low carbon groups" have advocated new ways to celebrate the Spring Festival
Setting off firecrackers during the Spring Festival is a tradition passed on by China's agricultural society. Views are always divided on whether firecrackers should be banned in the cities. However, as the concept of “low carbon” and “green” gradually become embedded in people’s minds, many people are starting to become aware of the idea of a "low carbon New Year". "Because our children would all come home from far away, we used to buy a lot of fireworks to celebrate the New Year, but this year we didn't spend a penny on them," Mrs. Jiang from Anhui province told reporters.
Netizen "Shenghuatianxia" said, "People also set off firecrackers in Hong Kong, but the sound is minimal. It is only allowed in open spaces in the suburbs, not in urban areas, which can also be considered a low carbon New Year."
Guiyuan temple in Wuhan was the first place to launch an “e-blessing”, which was popular with citizens. Data from an on-site command department reported that on New Year’s Day alone 150,000 e-blessings were given.
Wang Yuebing from Ning County, Hunan Province also said that he enjoyed a low carbon Spring Festival this year. He bought a few books online and drove home to the countryside. He helped his father chop firewood to heat their home; he read by the warm fireplace and picked vegetables with his mother in the garden. He also dug bamboo grown by his father for them to cook. On lunar New Year’s Day, he went hiking with his mother in accordance with an old tradition. On the second day of the lunar year he walked along the river to visit his grandparents and wish them a happy New Year. The rest of the time he spent reading.
"This New Year there was no luxury or extravagance, no bustle or noise; we just had 10 or so simple, straightforward days, but their richness and warmth will be enough to get me through the whole year. People in the same situation as me ought to give it a go next year," he said.
Can a traditional New Year’s celebration incorporate innovation?
Netizen “laoshenjing521” perhaps captures the mood of a certain section of society: "Is it good to set off firecrackers? Rationally speaking it is bad because it causes noise pollution, air pollution and a fire hazard. But it is an important symbol of the Chinese New Year. The Encierro and the La Tomatina festivals in Spain as well as the Scarecrow Festival in Britain also cause similar controversy. You could say that the characteristics of a culture depend to a certain extent on the people’s way of life. Other people say we can find different ways to celebrate the New Year instead of setting off firecrackers – this is true, but it is not a total solution."
During the Encierro in Spain, incidents involving trampled and wounded people happen every year. As casualties continue to occur, discerning voices are persistent but the festival hasn't been canceled. It’s because this holiday is a major part of the local heritage, has been passed down from generation to generation and is an integral part of local life. It is a show of skill and bravery. Festivals such as La Tomatina are extremely wasteful every year and are in no way “low carbon”, but there are still hordes of people willing to participate.
Fang Gang, Associate Professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, thinks the Encierro and Spring Festival are wasteful in many ways, but, as traditional folk habits, should be adapted, passed down to future generations and promoted. "As they stand, these events carry a lot of people's emotions and hopes and would be impossible to abolish in a day." He believes that such changes could not be made overnight, but as customs are evolving and new ideas are being put forward, we can promote new low carbon and green habits to lead people towards the idea of a low carbon life. But these new customs should be in step with people's emotions and old traditions. With a more conscientious population, a low carbon New Year can’t be too far away.
Translator: Ding Xiaoxin
Proofreader: Alex Boyel/Andrew Christie