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Capital Braced for 'Bang' Holiday
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Excitement is mounting for the upcoming Spring Festival not least because residents in Beijing and other cities can mark the celebrations again with a bang.

Many areas such as the capital banned firecrackers 12 years ago because of an increasing number of injuries involving the explosives.

But now regulations are being relaxed, people are in party mood.

"Being able to use firecrackers again does make it feel like a proper Spring Festival again," said a taxi driver surnamed Zhang in the Chongwen District of Beijing.

"Otherwise, we can only drink wine and have dinner without the fun of firecrackers."

Using firecrackers during the Spring Festival is a long-standing custom for Chinese. Many people believe that setting off firecrackers can help drive away any bad luck they have had in the previous year.

Sales of firecrackers have been gaining momentum thanks to the easing of the ban on firecrackers in Beijing and other major cities during this Spring Festival.

Starting last Sunday and until February 12, Beijing is allowing sales of firecrackers in the city centre.

It means residents can more easily enjoy the spectacle of firecrackers from the lunar New Year eve to the lunar Lantern Festival.

The liberation on the use of firecrackers in the capital reflects a national trend that involves 22 other provincial cities and municipalities.

It follows growing calls from residents to be able to celebrate Spring Festival with firecrackers.

The market demand is on the rise after dwindling due to the 12-year ban in Beijing. Surveys show that expenditure on firecrackers in Beijing in the two-week long holiday will reach 60 million yuan (US$7.39 million).

About 600,000 boxes of firecrackers, worth more than 100 million yuan (US$12.5 million), have been distributed to registered stores in the Chinese capital so far, according to Xinhua News Agency.

"Sales have made a huge leap this year," said Huang Wenhui, general manager of Liuyang-based Flying Eagle Firecrackers Company, one of the largest privately owned firecrackers manufacturers in the country.

Huang also heads the business chamber of 13 firecrackers manufacturers in Liuyang that are permitted providers for the Beijing Federation of Supply and Marketing Co-operatives, the capital's only firecrackers distributor.

More than 60 per cent of all the firecrackers produced from the federation's 34 permitted manufacturers hail from the city in Central China's Hunan Province.

Flying Eagle Firecrackers Company has seen its revenue jump four-fold to 2 million yuan (US$247,000) ahead of the Spring Festival, Huang said.

With the ban lifted, there has been an added emphasis on the safety of products.

"Firecrackers should bring happiness to people in holiday season," Huang said. "But sadly, some poor-quality products often lead to tragedy."

A total of 2,642 Beijingers were injured because of firecrackers during Spring Festivals from 1987 to 1993, statistics show.

During the years of ban, hospitals saw a drastic drop in people needing treatment for firecracker-related injuries.

Some doctors fear the lifting of restrictions will cause a rise again in the number of casualties.

"Firecrackers are explosives, so are harmful to people, especially when hitting the eyes," said Song Weixian, an oculist of the Beijing Tongren Hospital.

"Every holiday I've treated patients with wounded eyes. Some will never be able to see again."

Safty measures

To ensure the safety of firecrackers in Beijing, the products undergo at least four safety checks before being distributed to retailers.

Transportation and storage at Beijing Federation of Supply and Marketing Cooperatives is under close supervision.

All legal firecrackers sold in Beijing carry a special trademark of "Yan Long" and a security code.

Hundreds of Beijing retailers permitted to sell firecrackers see safety as paramount.

Fan Shuhua received month-long training about safety in terms of firecrackers transportation, storage and sales before she was allowed to open her firecrackers business at Chaoyang District in Beijing last Sunday.

"It is absolutely necessary," she said, adding that only by putting would-be retailers through so many procedures could they treat sales so seriously.

"No smoking" posters have been pinned-up all over the two-floor store.

Fan's is among the 2,116 registered outlets in Beijing trading firecrackers this year, of which 585 are in the centre and 1,600 are on the outskirts.

The purpose of establishing new stores within the Fifth Ring Road is to crackdown on illegal products by giving residents easier access to approved ones.

"By scattering permitted stores across the city, residents are able to obtain safe firecrackers," said Qian Jin, director in charge of firecrackers management in the Beijing Public Security Bureau.

Some 117 stores are permitted to operate 24 hours. "It means you don't even need to walk out of the community to get firecrackers," Qian added.

 In addition to keeping an eye on permitted stores, crackdowns on illegal firecrackers have been under way.

In Dongcheng District, 23 permitted stores have been closely supervised to ensure no illegal products are sold.

"So far we haven't found any illegal firecrackers and all the stores have followed our rules," said Lu Ping, an official with the Dongcheng district firecrackers management office.

In December, more than 78 million confiscated illegal firecrackers, worth 2.6 million yuan (US$320,000), were destroyed by the local government in Beijing. Ninety-five suspects were also put into custody for their alleged involvement in illegal trading.

To help ensure the safety of firecrackers during the festival, a total of 600,000 people throughout Beijing are expected to patrol the capital's streets to deal with fires caused by firecrackers, according to Beijing Morning Post.

They will include police, security personnel, community-based volunteers and those working for car parks, authorities said.

(China Daily January 27, 2006)

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