Authorities in some Chinese cities have lifted bans on fireworks in the wake of nationwide protests and ahead of the Lunar New Year on Jan. 22, while some authorities have doubled down on the ban and are punishing local residents for setting off fireworks as an example, according to Chinese media reports.
Local governments in Dongying and Binzhou cities in the eastern province of Shandong have announced via their official websites that firecrackers and fireworks will be allowed to usher in the Year of the Rabbit.
And authorities in Beijing and the northeastern port city of Dalian will allow fireworks during limited hours until the first month of the lunar calendar, the government-backed news site The paper reported.
But it added that many other places had made it clear that the original fireworks ban would remain in place.
“In the past few days, many places have announced cases of [people punished for] illegally setting off fireworks as a warning,” it said, citing administrative sanctions handed out by police in Wenzhou city in eastern Zhejiang province, Sihong city in eastern Jiangsu province and Jinzhou city in northwestern Liaoning province.
It quoted county officials in northern Hebei province as saying the ban would continue and as “fake news that setting off fireworks and fireworks can disinfect the air and kill the COVID-19 virus.”
Online news service Red Star said that in the southwestern city of Ya’an alone, eight districts and counties all have different regulations on Lunar New Year fireworks.
‘Exclaimed under the pressure’
New York-based political commentator Qin Peng said mass defiance of the fireworks ban seen at New Year came after three years of zero COVID, a grueling program of rolling shutdowns, mass surveillance and testing, and forced confinement in quarantine camps.
“The Chinese people have so much pain and anger stored up from the past three years that many places have erupted under the pressure,” Qin said.
“The authorities know very well that they have provoked public anger, and that it is not only among a minority group, but that it runs right through all of China’s cities and villages,” he said.
Qin suggested that the ruling Chinese Communist Party might even have a superstitious dislike of explosives designed to scare away evil spirits.
“Of course they say it’s for safety or cleanliness, but … but [firecrackers] has another meaning which is to cast out evil spirits and the party knows that it is evil,” he said.
That awareness appeared to be behind a directive from police chiefs in the northern city of Xi’an, who issued an urgent reminder to police forces following the January 2 Henan protests.
“The desire to launch fireworks and fireworks during the festive season is particularly strong among the general public … and they continue to appeal to the government through online platforms to allow the launch of fireworks and fireworks during the Lunar New Year.” said the statement.
It called on police officers to “enforce the law in a civilized and flexible manner and not come into direct conflict with the public and not trigger negative public opinion about the police.”
‘Can’t control mass incidents’
Veteran democracy activist Wang Juntao, who now lives in the United States, said there is an uneasy stalemate between popular anger, the Communist Party leadership and local governments.
“This is a forced compromise between Xi Jinping and local governments, because Xi Jinping can control the elite, but he cannot control mass events on the fringes of the political system,” Wang said.
“If he doesn’t want to delegate more power to local governments, then they can’t stop [protests]and have to make concessions instead,” he said. “If he delegates more power to local governments, they could use it to turn on Xi Jinping instead of the general public.”
“So all he can do is compromise, given the situation,” Wang said.
Qin said both the fireworks protests and the “white paper movement” in late November, which was followed by an abrupt end to Xi’s zero-COVID policy in early December, had shaken the Communist Party’s ruling system.
“The Communist Party wants to make [temporary] concessions because they imagine it’s a way to relieve the pressure of public anger and resentment,” he said.
But he said the approach could backfire.
“First, any concessions by the Communist Party will encourage ordinary people and help them realize that resistance is valuable and can force the government to compromise if it succeeds,” he said.
“[They then believe that] they should continue their opposition if there is a problem.”
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.