I’m in Tianjin, listening to the firecrackers that go from dusk well into the early hours of the morning. Traditionally, people set off firecrackers from New Year’s Eve through the Lantern Festival. Firecrackers also provided an opportunity for Tianjin friends to distinguish themselves from Cantonese people because “northerners love firecrackers more than southerners”. In fact, they said, the further north you go, the more festive the towns as firecrackers don’t stop.
I don’t actually know how much of my friend’s claim about northern enthusiasm for pyrotechnics is true. I do know that early on, Shenzhen attempted to outlaw firecrackers. In fact, I remember buying illegal firecrackers and setting them off at the coast. We drove with a truck full of illegal poppers to houhai land reclamation area, snuck out, and set them off. This year and last, however, I’ve noticed stands selling firecrackers because — according to a friend — the SZ Municipal government finally accepted the fact that it was safer to sell legal firecrackers and regulate production than the alternative.
I’m also told that people set of firecrackers just to “burn money”. Last year, the economy was good and people celebrated by “burning money”. However, this year I’m told that there are fewer people willing to buy firecrackers because of economic difficulties. Nevertheless, everyone I’ve talked with has set off firecrackers or played with sparklers; we bought a box of fireworks and watched them light up the sky for all of five minutes. New Year’s — relatives and friends emphasize — is the People’s holiday. In contrast, on National Day, only the government willingly burns money and, my friend joked, those fireworks are of different quality.