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Postcard from... Beijing



The Chinese Lunar New Year fell yesterday, marking the beginning of the Year of the Snake. And to fend off evil spirits and bad luck, people set off fireworks all over the country.

By Saturday night in Beijing, the fireworks sounded like a full-on barrage and will continue for the duration of the week-long holiday.

After weeks of the worst pollution in years in the capital, Beijing authorities will likely have kept a close eye on air-quality reports, as fireworks drive up the microparticle readings.

One firework that did not feature so strongly this year is the "Tokyo Big Bang"– for fears of heightening tension with Japan. Relations are under pressure as the two countries argue over who owns a string of small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The Chinese believe the noise can fend off evil spirits and bad luck. An official with the Beijing Office of Fireworks and Firecrackers told the Xinhua news agency that 750,000 boxes of fireworks went on sale this year, down from 810,000 in 2012. The number of franchised firework shops has also been reduced to 1,337 from last year's 1,429.

To meet the huge demand, fireworks are made, shipped and stored in large quantities, sometimes in unsafe conditions. A truck carrying fireworks for Lunar New Year blew up and collapsed an elevated section of motorway in central China, killing 10 people.

Nearly every year there is a catastrophe. In 2006, on the first day of the New Year, a storeroom filled with fireworks exploded in Henan, killing 36 people.