Fireworks in Beijing during the Spring Festival


Almost midnight near the Drum and Bell tower in northwestern Beijing,China. Bitterly cold, this new years’ festival (chūnjié  春节in Chinese) is based on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, so the holiday  can often be held in the frigid depths of winter despite being translated as “Spring Festival.” The 2012 festival was in January, so the lakes of Houhai in Beijing were still frozen solid, and perfect for watching the fireworks.

Setting off traditional fireworks is not just for professionals during the spring festival. Anyone in the city can buy a box of fireworks, set it on the ground, and light the fuse. Midnight is the beginning of the festival, so  everyone is outside. the entire city becomes hazy, due to the smoke and soot released by the fireworks. The day after the New Year, particulate counts in the air will climb in all Chinese cities. Many of the bright colors in fireworks comes from atoms vibrating at immensely fast speeds as they are heated, including magnesium, barium, copper, and cadmium. In the past, arsenic and mercury were used in fireworks, but are not anymore. There is low oversight on Chinese factories though, so it is very possible that some compounds are still used that would not be considered acceptable in the West.

Besides the fireworks which launch into the air, there are firecrackers, huge strings of explosives attached to a central fuse, which are packed with chemicals to make as much sound and light as possible. This hearkens back to the original firecrackers in China: long pieces of bamboo, with each segment stuffed with black powder. These were set off to drive away the evil spirits to usher in good fortune in the New Year. In Beijing, the sounds of these can be heard for over a kilometer, and are accompanied by the yelping of car alarms set off by the sound and vibrations caused by the firecrackers. While these are fun to set off, they should be respected, and are certainly loud enough to damage hearing.

The Spring Festival ushers in a new year. Fireworks bring good fortune, but there are other traditions too, such as burning offerings to bring good fortune in the coming year. Over the course of the festival it is common to come across circles of ashes on the pavement, where people have burned religious objects and fake money to bring fortune and good luck.

(A version of this description designed to help teachers introduce Chinese New Year’s to students can be found here.)‎



Chinese Pinyin English
春节 chūnjié Chinese Spring Festival (PN)
新年 xīnnián new year (N)
汽车 qìchē car (N)
公共汽车 gōnggòngqìchē bus (N)
出租车 chūzūchē taxi (N)
半夜 bànyè midnight (T)
鼓楼 gǔlóu drum tower (N)
焰火 yànhuǒ fireworks (N)
阿姨 āyí old lady/aunty (polite) (N)
bīng ice (N)
后海  Hòuhǎi Houhai Lake (in Beijing)
花炮 huāpào firecracker (N)
guǐ ghost (N)