Authorities in some Chinese cities have lifted bans on fireworks after nationwide protests and ahead of the Lunar New Year on Jan. 22, while some authorities have doubled down on the ban and fined local residents for setting off fireworks as an example, according to Chinese media reports.
Local governments in the cities of Dongying and Binzhou in eastern Shandong province have announced through their official websites that firecrackers and cannons will be allowed to herald the Year of the Rabbit.
And authorities in Beijing and the northeastern port city of Dalian will allow fireworks within limited hours until the first month of the lunar calendar, government-backed news site The Paper reported.
But it added that many other places have made it clear that the original fireworks ban will remain in place.
“In the last few days, many places have reported cases of [people punished for] illegal setting off of firecrackers as a warning,” it said, citing administrative penalties imposed by police in Wenzhou city in eastern Zhejiang province, Sihong city in eastern Jiangsu province and Jinzhou city in northwestern Liaoning province.
It quoted county officials in northern Hebei Province as saying the ban would remain in place, and as bulking up “fake news that firing firecrackers and firecrackers can disinfect the air and kill the COVID-19 virus.”
Online news outlet Red Star said that in the southwestern city of Ya’an alone, eight districts and counties have different regulations for Lunar New Year fireworks.
“Breaking Out Under the Pressure”
New York-based political commentator Qin Peng said the mass opposition to the New Year’s fireworks ban came after three years of zero-COVID, a grueling program of ongoing lockdowns, mass surveillance and testing, and forcible detention in quarantine camps.
“The Chinese people have accumulated so much pain and anger over the past three years that many places have erupted under the pressure,” Qin said.
“The authorities know very well that they have provoked public anger, and that it is not just among a minority group, but runs across every town and village in China,” he said.
Protesters in China’s Henan Province damage a police car Monday, January 2, 2023 after police tried to enforce a ban on fireworks at Hongdaoyuan Square in Luyi County in Henan. Photo Credit: Netizen-provided screenshot from the video
Qin suggested that the ruling Chinese Communist Party might even have a superstitious aversion to explosives designed to scare away evil spirits.
“They say, of course, that it’s for safety or cleanliness reasons, but … but [firecrackers] have another meaning, which is to cast out evil spirits, and the party knows that it is evil,” he said.
That awareness appeared to be behind a directive from police chiefs in the northern city of Xi’an, who issued an urgent reminder to police forces following the January 2 protests in Henan.
“The desire to set off fireworks and bangers during the Christmas season is particularly strong among the general public … and they continue to use online platforms to appeal to the government to allow fireworks and bangers to be set off during the Lunar New Year,” the statement said .
It called on police officers to “enforce the law in a civil and flexible manner and not to come into direct conflict with the public and not to arouse negative public opinion about the police”.
“Cannot control mass incidents”
Veteran democracy activist Wang Juntao, now based in the United States, said there was an uncomfortable standoff between popular anger, Communist Party leadership and local governments.
“This is an enforced compromise between Xi Jinping and local governments because Xi Jinping can control the elite, but he cannot control mass incidents on the fringes of the political system,” Wang said.
“Unless he delegates more power to local governments, they cannot stamp out [protests]and have to make concessions instead,” he said. “If he delegates more power to local governments, they could use it to turn against Xi Jinping rather than the general public.”
“So he can only compromise given the situation,” Wang said.
Qin said both the fireworks protests and the “white paper” movement in late November, which was followed by an abrupt end to Xi’s zero-COVID policy in early December, have rocked the Communist Party’s system of government.
“The Communist Party wants to do it [temporary] Concessions because they imagine it’s a way to relieve the pressure of public anger and resentment,” he said.
But he said the approach could backfire.
“First, any concessions made by the Communist Party will encourage ordinary people and help them see that resistance is valuable and can force the government to compromise if successful,” he said.
“[They then believe that] They should keep up their resistance if there’s a problem.”
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.