BEIJING — The annual Lunar New Year fireworks barrage in Beijing was notably muted Sunday following government appeals to reduce the smoky celebrations after air pollution rose to near catastrophic levels over recent weeks.
China's capital saw almost twice the number of smoggy days in January, with levels of small particle air pollution going off the charts at times. That prompted calls for restraint, along with a reduction in the number of licensed fireworks sellers and amount of fireworks on sale.
The fusillades that began on Lunar New Year's eve on Saturday night started later than usual but still grew to furious intensity at midnight. They also died out earlier than usual on Sunday morning and relatively few explosions were heard during the day.
Setting off fireworks to celebrate renewal and ward off evil spirits is a traditional part of the celebration that marks China's most important family holiday.
Sales of fireworks from Tuesday to Saturday fell 37 percent over the same period last year, from 410,000 cartons to just 260,000, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing figures from the city government. The city authorized 1,337 fireworks stands this year, down from 1,429 last year, and allowed 750,000 cartons of fireworks to go on sale, down from 810,000.
The Beijing Daily, the city government's official newspaper, carried appeals last week for residents to hold off on fireworks celebrations, saying not doing so would significantly worsen levels of PM2.5 particle pollution forecast to be in the hazardous zone. City environmental bureau readings showed levels well above 200 in most parts of the city Sunday, dangerous but still well below readings of more than 700 seen last month, when Beijing experienced 23 days of smog, up from 10 the previous January.