Quality Products International

Chinese New Year in China. More than just Fireworks!

by on Feb.09, 2011, under China

None the less, one of the most dramatic and audible features of Chinese New Year in China are the firecrackers.

Fireworks, Lantern, Prosperity Messages, Mandarin Tree with Red Envelopes ~ QPI Ltd

Fireworks, Lantern, Prosperity Messages, and Mandarin Tree with Red Envelopes

The very first “firecrackers” were in about 200AD there are accounts of green bamboo being put in fires to generate loud noises to scare off evil spirits.
Many falsely believe that the Chinese invented gunpowder just for fireworks. Gunpowder was invented initially under the patronage of a Tsang dynasty emperor about 850AD.
A small group of alchemists were being funded to find an elixir of eternal life. One process was to mix ingredients already used in healing, and trying to transform them through various means including application of heat.
The result of particular proportions of saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal being mixed and heated, was that the alchemists became singed and the house they were working in burned to the ground.
Initially gunpowder was only use to generate smoke as a fumigant.
As a side note, some in the west mistaken believe the Chinese only used gunpowder in fireworks.
Chinese were also the first to use it in warfare, as early as 900AD crude bamboo rockets were attached to arrows by Song Dynasty armies defending against the Mongols, though the Mongols conquered forming the Yuan Dynasty.
It was not until sometime after 1240AD that there are references to use of gunpowder for warfare in the European and Islamic worlds.
About 1,000AD a monk by the name of Li Tan, is credited for inventing fireworks. Story goes that he made them to scare of the ghost of dragon which had been killed at the order of the prime minister.
So fireworks is simply an advancement on the bamboo cracker theme. Similarly, red has traditionally been a popular colour to mark special occasions and ward off evil spirits, so it is only fitting then that the traditional “fire cracker” is red!
In modern day China they are very obvious element of any celebration or auspicious occasion, be that a wedding, a business opening, funeral procession or indeed CNY.
I once flew from Shenzhen to Beijing on Chinese New Years eve, and as darkness descended the sparkle of fireworks could be seen across the country, even from a commercial airline.
Typically in the lead up to, and soon after CNY, the front of any small store in China becomes dedicated to Fireworks, of all shapes and sizes. In a country where “village version” is the popular euphemism for “copy”, it is not surprising to see Mick Mouse and friends adorning some, perhaps to add charm or some sort of legitimacy….??
Micky Mouse Fire Works ~ observed by QPI Ltd

Micky & Friends Fire Works

Normally the pops, bangs and fizzles start a few days before actual CNY.
It is quite common to see groups of small children playing with fireworks, in this photo a group of young girls are playing with fireworks.
Group of Girls Playing with Fireworks ~ QPI Ltd

Group of local Girls Playing with Fireworks

On a more formal basis a chain of fire crackers is normally lit before the main family meal, and of course at midnight on CNY eve…….as well as…..virtually any time day or night, in the days leading up to or week or so after Chinese New Years eve.
Crackers before family luncheon ~ QPI Ltd

Crackers before family luncheon

The chains of crackers are hung from houses, trees, phone lines, or simply laid along the ground and lit.
Midnight on Chinese New Years Eve,  is loud to say the least, with literally millions of crackers going off even in the smallest village, and the cacophony echoing through the smoke filled streets.
Fireworks in village at CNY Midnight ~ QPI Limited

Fireworks in village at CNY Midnight

They often have about 300,000 – 500,000 crackers chained together along a single wick.
Most smaller ones, with some larger ones along the chain, then a crescendo of noise at the end of the chain which comprises a clump of large crackers. Some fall off without detonating, and become hidden in the carpet of red paper left on the ground.
Children of all ages scour the ground, harvesting the unspent crackers, some with virtually no fuse. Along with sporadic pops and bangs of the crackers, there are the shrill yelps and cackles of near misses from fuses just a little too short.
There are many, many traditions in Chinese culture that are strictly observed.
Animals are not slaughtered on New Years day…..so extra Chickens that Hainan, where I stayed for this CNY is famous for, were prepared the day before. Another tradition is that people do not sweep on Chinese New Years Day, leaving the red carpet of paper on the ground as testament to the feat.
Cracker Papers on CNY Day ~ QPI Ltd

Aftermath, but no sweeping on New Years Day

There are many less spectacular traditions for Chinese New Year. The red and gold “prosperity messages” are taken down and replaced with new ones, often with almost exactly the same message. One of the most obvious are the Mandarin Trees, typically adorned with red envelopes, each one containing some money.
Red envelopes in themselves are a significant part of Chinese tradition, at celebrations, and especially CNY. It is given with the wish of prosperity while at the same time the giver is demonstrating to themselves and others that they have an abundance of wealth to share.
The envelopes are passed amongst family and friends at various meals, gatherings and visits over CNY, with a tradition of which family is visited on various days of the CNY cycle.
I once had dinner with the owner of a chain of hotels, shortly before CNY. Through the entire meal, staff came to say offer their good wishes, from assistant managers down to janitors.
…they were of course also well aware that he would be handing out red envelopes.
Distributed throughout his jacket were an array of envelopes. Each pocket represented a different value, and within each pocket he had a large and small envelope to further split the denomination. He faced the arduous challenge of remember which envelope to retrieve from which pocket for which person, and occasionally after the staff member had gone on their way, he would lament, “I think I may have given that one the wrong envelope”.
At the end of the day however CNY is first and foremost a family holiday. Similar to many family holidays in countries around the world, the Chinese go to great lengths to return to their traditional home town, often small villages, to celebrate with their family.
It is an opportunity for family to enjoy some meal together, with cousins, in-laws with normally two, three and sometimes four generations at the same table.
The food is normally wholesome and the infamous “ Bijou” (white rice wine spirit) invariably comes out.


Plan ahead for future CNY holidays, with a list of Chinese New Year Dates from QPILtd up until 2030.

CNY Days and Dates 2018 – 2030


For more posts from QPI Ltd about Chinese New Year, including a list of CNY dates and how the “Spring Festival” may affect the scheduling and quality of your production in China, see also:

Chinese New Year Dates 2011 – 2020


QPI Ltd wishes you all the best for the year of the Rabbit


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