Frugality campaign, smog sour Chinese fireworks sales

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-12-11 14:02:23

The approaching Chinese Lunar New Year festivities used to mean big business for He Jianwu, senior executive of a fireworks manufacturing plant in Central China's Hunan Province.

However, an ongoing frugality campaign by the Chinese government and the lingering smog that has hit most parts of eastern and northern China this month have dealt him a heavy blow.

He is board chairman of Hunan Dream Fireworks Co., Ltd., which has participated in many domestic art and music festivals in the past. So far this year, He has not received a single government call for bidding on fireworks shows.

A circular released in late November by the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country's top discipline watchdog, urged officials not to buy fireworks and firecrackers with public funds during holidays.

Many local governments and enterprises have responded to the call and canceled their planned fireworks shows during the holidays.

During the one-week Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Jan. 31 in 2014, many Chinese normally set off fireworks and firecrackers to celebrate.

Although fireworks-triggered accidents happen every year, many Chinese people do consider fireworks an essential part of their lives, especially on weddings and during the Chinese New Year.

Many Beijing residents still have fresh memories of a fireworks gala during the Lantern Festival in February 2009 at the landmark China Central Television building, which caused a fire that killed a firefighter and injured six other firefighters as well as two construction workers.

"The domestic fireworks market has shrunk significantly as enterprises have been following the government's call and have reduced their budgets for fireworks shows," said Li Dingping, Party chief of the Liuyang Municipal Fireworks and Firecrackers Administration Bureau.

It is still uncertain if the huge fireworks inventories, which are significantly more than those in previous years, will be sold in the coming month, said Li.

Weather is another factor that will affect sales, he said.

"Many cities temporarily banned fireworks in the case of serious pollution in previous years," he said. "It's hard to tell the weather conditions during the Spring Festival."

Liuyang produces about 40 percent of China's total fireworks and firecrackers.

Posts calling for people not to set off firecrackers during the upcoming festival are circulating on Chinese social media platforms, including the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, and on WeChat, a popular mobile text and voice messaging application.

Many have pledged not to shoot firecrackers for cleaner air.

A recent online survey on Sina Weibo organized by Zheng Yuanjie, a renowned Chinese fairy tale writer, showed that 85 percent of the 1,585 participants agreed not to shoot firecrackers during the upcoming Spring Festival.

To survive this predicament, Chinese fireworks manufacturers are developing environmentally friendly products and tapping the rural market, which is less affected by air pollution.

"Environmentally friendly fireworks that produce less smoke account for 20 percent of the product portfolio at many companies now," said Zhong Ziqi, head of the China Fireworks and Firecrackers Association.

"In the next three to five years, they will make more breakthroughs in smoke reduction and add more artistic and cultural value to the fireworks," he said.

Future products will not contain heavy metals or sulfur, and will reduce the use of metallic powder to cut down inhalable particles, he said.

In contrast to the sluggish domestic market, exports have increased by 20 percent this year at Liuyang Jinsheng Fireworks Co., Ltd. due to its ample supply of "greener" fireworks, said Ye Changjiang, the company's deputy general manager.

Environmentally friendly fireworks are 10 percent more expensive than normal products, and it is difficult to win Chinese customers' acknowledgement, said Ye.

Promotion from governments and rising consumer awareness of cleaner fireworks are key to revitalizing the industry, said Ye.

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