Is Spring Festival Safe?

[Update: And we’re back! A big thanks to Josh of Far West China for having saved the text of this post after I somehow deleted it!]

Is the Spring Festival tradition of making things explode more or less at random over the course of the festival really compatible with an increasingly urban China? Having heard reports of accidents and even deaths, we decided to investigate.

What seems most at odds with the urban environment is the pyrotechnics. Most other countries have stringent laws about the use of fireworks, and while China has local ordinances and did pass state-level regulations a few years ago, there are still no national regulations, and whatever regulations there are clearly aren’t taken seriously.

That can lead to situations like this: 15 Die in Blaze at a Restaurant in Eastern China (New York Times). Granted, those people were celebrating a birthday (reportedly), but anyone whose been outside in China during Spring Festival would attest that they probably bought the fireworks from one of the many street vendors that pops up to sell explodables this time of year. According to Xinhua, one person was killed and 434 were injured in Beijing last Spring Festival from fireworks-related accidents. This year, on the eve of the lunar new year alone, there were 46 injuries in Beijing from fireworks, which also started 75 fires. Xinhua reported, “The city [Beijing] lifted a 12-year ban on fireworks in 2006. Since then, two deaths, more than 1,500 injuries and 2,400 fires caused by mishandled firecrackers had been reported.”

Those numbers are actually surprisingly small given the number of people who live in Beijing, but one wonders how much smaller they would be if some regulations were enforced and the firework displays were left to the professionals. 1,500 injuries in a giant city over four years isn’t that many, but it’s a number that could certainly stand to be reduced.

Still, is China doing any worse than other nations? For comparison, we decided to look at the USA’s Fourth of July holiday, which is also frequently celebrated through the use of a variety of explosives. Reportedly, in 2004, there were 9,400 hospitalizations from firework-related accidents in the entire US around the Fourth of July. Using science (i.e. a calculator) we determined that that works out to a rate of about .00313% of Americans injured by fireworks every Fourth of July. How did Beijingers fare in comparison? Better, actually. According to our science, .000353% of Beijingers feel the sting of fireworks every Lunar New Years’ Eve since the ban was lifted in 2006.

Apparently, not regulating fireworks works for the Chinese, or they just operate them more safely than their American counterparts, who, at a .00313% injury rate, are practically lining up for the emergency rooms. So it looks like Spring Festival is, despite appearances to the contrary, safe after all. We just wish someone would tell that to the guy who rocketed a firework into our bedroom window the other day.

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