Year 3 / Issue 22 / Living With Art and Culture / Mei Shao

Firecrackers – the Demon or the Demon Expeller
By: Mei Shao


After years of being away from my home country China, I almost forgot what the Chinese New Year was really like in China. Although I had so many memories about it, it was not until I was finally back there this Chinese New Year that I was brought back to the realization that it was celebrated so big and loud.

For the past 20 years, whenever I was not home for New Year, I have always called my parents on New Year’s Eve to send my New Year greetings. However, almost every single time, I had to hang up after I screamed on the top of my lungs without them hearing me at all. Strange? Phone line problem? No, it’s all because of the extremely loud noise that came from the firecrackers that almost every family had to set off at approximately the same time, usually before or around mid-night at 12am to welcome the arrival of the Lunar New Year.

Does it cause pollution? Absolutely yes, both air and noise pollution, and safety hazards too. It was reported that there were about 20 tons of debris garbage (from the firecrackers and fireworks) collected in Beijing alone after the New Year Eve. Should it be stopped? If you are to preach about noise pollution, make sure you do not do it during Chinese New Year, otherwise you will be destined to fail. This is because the blowing up of firecrackers is amongst the traditional celebrations that the Chinese people take part in for the purpose of welcoming the New Year.

In fact the firecrackers are the final touch to the entire festive season. Without them the Chinese New Year would be incomplete. Beijing imposed a ban on fireworks in 1993 and since then about 300 Chinese cities have followed suit. But Beijing lifted the ban in 2005 in response to people's appeal that lighting fireworks during Spring Festival was an integral part of folk culture.

The use of firecrackers s is also amongst one of the ancient traditional practices of China which hold great significance in the eyes of the locals. The history of the use of fireworks goes back to a long time ago and their use is deeply embedded in the Chinese culture with regards to the arrival of the New Year.

As is with most of the traditional practices of the country you will be able to hear a number of stories regarding the significance and origins of the firecrackers tradition. A common belief is to make some noise so as to wake up a sleeping dragon. This dragon is believed to bring the rain during summer in order for the crops to grow. Since China is an agricultural society, the importance of rain and agriculture friendly weather cannot be denied. Hence people have happily adopted this belief which serves as a viable excuse to make some noise pollution during the New Year celebrations.

There is another side to the story as well. Another set of people hold a belief that the firecrackers are meant to scare away the evil spirits and misfortunes right at the start of the year. This way the Chinese people hope to keep the coming year free from all evil.

There is an entire customary dragon parade that takes place as part of the celebrations during New Year, especially in southern China.  It is compulsory for all those who participate in this parade to throw firecrackers towards the feet of the dancing dragons with the aim to keep them awake during the parade.

The purpose of blowing up all these fire crackers is to keep the evil spirits away. In some cultures firecrackers are believed to drive the good spirits away because of the loud noise but when in China, the traditional beliefs say otherwise.

This keeping away evil spirits practice is more or less similar to the Chahar Shanbeh Soori in Persian New Year when families gather piles of brush or wood and bonfires are lit in public places. I believe the purpose of this tradition is giving thanks for the previous year's health and happiness, while exchanging any remaining paleness and evil with the warmth and vibrancy of the fire.

It doesn’t matter if it is by firecrackers or by fire, safe play is of crucial importance. Make sure to keep safety in mind while practicing these traditions, otherwise they may turn into demons themselves and cause you harm.