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Firecrackers Give Rise to Heated Debate in Beijing

To permit or not to permit lighting firecrackers in Beijing? This is a question.

The Committee of Legislative Affairs with the Beijing Municipal People's Congress yesterday heard opinions from 16 local residents at a public hearing concerning draft legislation to lift the 12-year ban on firecrackers.

The 16 public representatives were chosen from 69 people who applied to attend the hearing according to the principle that the number of representatives representing different opinions should be the same.

According to the draft regulation on firecracker-related safety issues, it is permitted to set off firecrackers everywhere in Beijing during the 17 days of Spring Festival (Chinese lunar New Year).

Local legislators discussed the draft last month.

Furthermore, firecrackers are allowed in areas beyond the Fifth Ring Road at any time of a year, according to the draft.

"I do not agree to the lifting of the ban," said Wei Jingmin, a worker who first took the floor yesterday at the public hearing.

"To permit the setting off of firecrackers in Beijing will harm people's quality of life, properties and environment," he said.

Wei cited the statistics from this year's Spring Festival as an example.

Although lighting firecrackers was still illegal during the Lunar New Year of 2005, the sound of firecrackers could be heard nearly everywhere in the city.

"It is reported that over 550 people were injured by firecrackers during Spring Festival this year," he said.

Wei also pointed out that although most residents are for lifting the ban, according to a survey, the right of a quiet life, especially for senior citizens, should not be ignored.

Zhang Haitao, a news editor, agreed with Wei on the issue.

"The right for a quiet life should come before the right for entertainment (like lighting firecrackers)," he said yesterday.

Zhang said Beijing should continue with the ban.

However, the other group of speakers favoured the setting off of firecrackers, their reason being that this traditional way of celebration during Chinese festivals should be maintained, especially the Lunar New Year.

"Legislators should be far-sighted enough to lift the ban, which would mean the protection of traditional aspect of culture" Huang Hai, a lawyer said yesterday.

"In fact Beijingers have found no better alternative to celebrate Spring Festival since 1993 when the city began the ban," he said.

Another Beijing resident Jiang Jiang, a student, shared Huang's opinion.

"I think it is better for people to light firecrackers under guidance rather than by doing it furtively," she said.

Jiang urged the government to strengthen supervision to reduce the harm done by firecrackers.

She advised reducing the time allowed to set off firecrackers to six days during Spring Festival, as compared with 17 days in the current draft.

Another resident, Jin Yeqin, suggested that a tax should be imposed on firecrackers because they are dangerous articles.

"In this way, people will set off less firecrackers because they are more expensive," he said.

"The taxation income could be used in the supervision of firecracker use," Jin further advised.

The Committee of Legislative Affairs under the Beijing Municipal People's Congress will draft a report based on the complaints and advice from the 16 public representatives, according to Ying Songnian, vice-chairman of the committee.

(China Daily August 15, 2005)

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