China's government called for a toned down celebration on Sunday, and as a result the annual Chinese New Year celebrations saw fewer fireworks and firecrackers. The colorful sky explosions are part of a superstitious tradition that says they have the strength to ward off bad spirits.
The appeals from the government came into light after released data showed extremely high levels of air pollution overtaking Beijing. News media reports have been loud in criticizing the repeatedly hazardous conditions, reflecting dissatisfaction with precautions the government has taken so far in efforts to curb the environmental damage.
According to the Beijing Daily, setting off fireworks would only worsen the smog currently plaguing the city. By the World Health Organization’s standards, air pollution is up 40 times higher than what is considered acceptable — a major concern for China where an increased death rate has also been noted. The danger in low air quality readings is that these readings measure the amount of lingering small particles. When the air is oversaturated with them, the particles are then able to enter the lungs and cause respiratory damage. Ironically enough, Beijing is not the most polluted city in the country — that title belongs to Lanzhou.
A European Union-World Bank study once estimated that only 1% of the Chinese population dwelling in cities are exposed to clean air. Factors said to contribute to the pollution include the multitude of coal-burning factories, the excess of vehicles, and unchecked gasoline burning.