06
Feb
08

Battleground Beijing

Okay, Beijing may not literally be a battleground these last few days, but you might wonder if you heard how things sound outside. The Chinese New Year seems to be a time of year in which the Chinese can remind the whole world that they, in fact, invented fireworks. As I write this, it sounds as if there is a massive battle outside, shots constantly being fired and bombs constantly going off. I’ve never seen a Fourth of July celebration that even comes close to something of this scale. I think the main reason why is that in the US, fireworks are banned in most urban areas by local authorities. In New Mexico, where I grew up, the only place where you could really legally use fireworks were areas far outside any town, where there was little risk of bothering anyone with either sound or fire hazards. (The only legal fireworks were staged by “professionals” hired by the city, who twice, I think, ended up setting their own headquarters on fire in the middle of the show.) But here in Beijing, there are firework stands on virtually every corner, and at Renmin (People’s) University, local families seem to think that this campus is an ideal locale for fireworks. I suppose if you’re setting off fireworks far enough away from your home, where you’re only threatening public buildings and foreign students on campus, it must seem like a fine place indeed.

I don’t know how I feel about this. I certainly don’t want to get in the way of people having fun and enjoying their holiday. But there is something to be said for laws protecting people from public nuisances, such as excessive noise and fire hazards. I would be curious to know how busy the Beijing Fire Department is kept tonight. It would be very interesting indeed if fire emergencies proved to be no more excessive than any other night.

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