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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 22:57 GMT
Boom time for China's festival firms
By Nick Mackie
BBC News, Chongqing

It's the ultimate in Chinese street celebrations.

Firework maker
The fireworks business is booming again

Rockets illuminate the night sky, crackers deafen, while thousands of exploding sparklers shower the performers on the plaza - as, semi-naked, they run here and there holding aloft the 10 metre long snaking form of a dragon.

Since 1993, the old tradition - of city households gathering families and friends together to let off their own fireworks - has been banned by local authorities keen to reduce the annual toll of casualties and the fires often caused by carelessness or dodgy pyrotechnics.

Instead, city folk have had to settle for organised shows like this to celebrate their New Year with a bang.

But faced with widespread flouting of the ban in recent years, more than a hundred authorities have now pragmatically relaxed the rules - at least during the two-week-long Spring Festival that begins on Saturday.

So the festivities to mark the new Year of the Dog, which begin in earnest on the eve of 28 January, promise to be the loudest in more than a decade.

This is good news for those who want to scare away the demons, as generations have done before them. And it also brings glad tidings to the fireworks industry, which can now generate more bucks for its bang.

Precautions

In the countryside a two-hour drive east of Chongqing city, business is booming at Liangping Dragon Fireworks Plant.

The business has changed from being seasonal to all year round... People now want the dragon for any ceremony
Li Kaifu, Tongliang Dragon Plant

The company employs 80 locals, who usually spend their days working on farms.

But with the lifting of the firecracker ban and turnover expected to triple to a million dollars, most are now working full-time.

"This year the market is demanding more firecrackers than we can produce," explains Liu Bin, the factory Vice General Manager. "Before the government lifted the ban, we made more than the market needed."

Building such explosive products demands special precautions. A single factory would be a recipe for disaster, so instead the plant comprises a series of small brick outhouses scattered along a hillside.

No more than two people work in any unit at a time. So if one blows up, casualties - and material losses - are limited.

A hundred rocket-like fireworks made here retail for $30, of which the workers get 10 cents apiece. Those with the nimblest fingers can earn about $90 a month.

Off the books

But there's a downside to the lifting of the urban firecracker ban - a greater temptation for unlicensed producers to cash in.

Dragon maker
Dragon making is no less lucrative - and has a thriving export market

According to the government safety bureau, of China's 6,600 firework manufacturers, fewer than a third have safety permits.

Illegal production is blamed for most of last year's explosions at a reported 80 factories, which killed 190 workers.

Two hours west of Chongqing, jobs in the carnival sector are much safer.

Soaring demand

The staff there use bamboo struts to assemble the slinky skeletons for the traditional Chinese dragons, before covering them with bright fabric. These sell from $500.

The Tongliang Dragon Plant turnover is $80,000 - a third of which comes from exports to the Chinese community abroad.

With China's own economy developing, so is the domestic demand for cultural icons - and loud, colourful celebrations.

"The business has changed from being seasonal to all year round," says Li Kaifu, the factory director. "People now want the dragon for any ceremony: such as a factory or school anniversary.

"That's because the dragon is the symbol of the Chinese people - we're the offspring of the dragon."

The dragon's descendents anticipate the noisiest neighbourhood celebrations in over a decade.

And with every shout, and every bang, the festivities industry will rejoice - and its tills will ring.




SEE ALSO:
Chinese fireworks blast kills 25
12 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
China fireworks industry shake-up
27 Nov 03 |  Asia-Pacific


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