For years, Beijing’s skyline has burst into light at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, with tens of thousands of fireworks exploding across the Chinese capital to mark the onset of the Spring Festival holidays.

Often lasting for hours, the colourful and deafening spectacle is the scourge of light sleepers, but a must for superstitious Chinese who believe pyrotechnics can ward off evil spirits and ensure the year will be filled with health and happiness.

But 2018 will be remembered as the year that the bang, pop and crackle of fireworks fell silent across Beijing, after authorities enforced a strict ban within the city’s central areas.

Beijing is one of more than 400 cities across China which has ruled against the use of fireworks due to rising concerns about the hazardous pollutants that they emit into the night sky.

Anger at poor air quality in many Chinese cities has meant many people support the ban, but young Chinese were expressing sadness at the subdued start to the New Year holidays late on Thursday evening.

"It doesn’t feel like a New Year at all," said Hao Rui, aged seven, as he peered out of his bedroom window towards deserted and silent streets near to Beijing’s Worker’s Stadium.

Many Chinese, including young children, would normally stay up late at New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks from a balcony or through a window.

People make sure that all firecrackers and fireworks have exploded during celebrations for the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year of Monkey in Beijing two years agoCredit:
Reuters

But while youngsters across Beijing may have gone to bed on Thursday feeling sad, the disappointment would have been forgotten on New Year’s Day, when they are traditionally handed red envelopes stuffed with cash from older family members.

Traders in fireworks, however, were expressing desperation due to the ban.

One retailer at Panda Fireworks in the Changping district of Beijing told The Telegraph that the store was forced to move out of the city by local authorities.

"The local government is so mean to move us on," said the retailer. "The business is not very good now, as fewer people come to buy products from where we are located."

Beijing’s level of PM2.5, a measure of small particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs, peaked at 647 micrograms per cubic metre early on New Year’s Day last year, the national Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

The figure is more than 25 times the World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum of 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

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While there were no sightings of fireworks from around the central northern area of the city when The Telegraph ventured out around midnight, the unmistakable smell of sulfar suggested a minority may have defied the ban.

Rumblings of fireworks could also be heard in the far distance.

Fireworks were invented in China and are very popular in the country. Many Chinese set off firecrackers at important moments in their life, such as weddings or if they move into a new apartment.

Youngsters in China are told the story of how loud explosions are used to chase away Nian, a mythological beast who would come to harm people at New Year.

China’s Spring Festival is the country’s main national holiday. It is usually the only time of year when millions of migrant workers return home to their families.

Almost three billion trips are expected to be made until March 12 during what is known as the world’s biggest annual human migration.

Additional reporting by Christine Wei

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