"Fireworks are cheapest on the last day of the Lunar New Year Festival," explains Li Xiao Chin, a 23-year-old Beijing resident. And Monday, February 9, the day that the as-yet-finished Mandarin Oriental Hotel was gutted by flames due to fireworks, happened to be that final day for New Year celebrations—the last day residents can legally set off fireworks within the Fifth Ring Road.
The morning after, Beijing’s fire control authorities confirmed the fire was in fact caused by fireworks (brought in by CCTV themselves).
The burning of the 44-story structure, little brother to Rem Koolhaas’ CCTV headquarters, evoked city-wide disappointment from locals and foreigners alike.
The international press has called the fire a blow to China in the wake of food safety scares, a drought and a slowing economy. Rumors are circulating that the fire may lead to the re-introduction of the fireworks ban, which was lifted just three years ago. In 2006, Beijing’s municipal government bowed to continual public discontent over a 12-year absolute no-fireworks policy that, citizens complained, "took away the spirit of the holiday." It declared the New Year celebrations an exemption from the ban, and firework vendors began popping up across the capital.
Regulation on pyrotechnic fun may get stricter, but if Beijing follows public will, fireworks will remain a mainstay of Chinese New Year celebrations in Beijing.
"Too many people want fireworks." Chin said. "This [fire] was just one exception."
By Lily Kuo