BEIJING, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- Chinese people celebrated this year's Spring Festival holiday, which ends on Thursday, with less luxury and fewer fireworks following national calls to fight smog and extravagance.
Fireworks sales in Beijing slumped 37.7 percent during the holiday from a year earlier, with 195,000 boxes of fireworks sold between Lunar New Year Eve on Jan. 30 and Feb. 4, the Beijing municipal public security bureau said in a statement Wednesday.
In Shanghai, the maximum density of PM 2.5, which measures particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, reached 290 micrograms per cubic meter of air on Jan. 31, down 45 percent from last year.
In east China's Jiangxi Province, neighborhood workers and volunteers at the Tianciliangyuan Community in the provincial capital of Nanchang distributed electronic firecrackers as a substitute for the real thing.
"Traditional firecrackers with suffocating smoke would worsen the already poor air quality. E-firecrackers, with similar costs, emit no pollution and can be reused in the future," said 62-year-old Xu Xuehua, a volunteer.
"The severe smoggy weather forced us to take action, turning to e-firecrackers and festive music instead of fireworks," she said.
Chinese people have a tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year with fireworks to add to the festival atmosphere and fend off evil spirits and bad luck. However, with regular smog suffocating China in recent years, the contribution of fireworks to air pollution has drawn the attention of authorities.
Government departments in many cities have issued circulars, calling on residents to cut firework consumption during the holiday. Meteorological authorities also released a firecracker advisory index from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 to alert the public about air and weather conditions in order to reduce air pollution caused by fireworks.
Burning incense is another Chinese tradition that affects air quality during the Spring Festival. Believers visit Buddhist and Taoist sites to offer incense to gods and goddesses and pray for blessings.
Since Dec. 10, Beijing's Lama Temple has provided environmentally friendly incense free of charge and has barred visitors from bringing their own incense.
The environmentally friendly incense is shorter in size and made from pinewood and cedarwood flour and other natural materials. The smoke and other hazardous substances it produces when burned meet environmental requirements, according to the temple's abbot, Hu Xuefeng.
Postcard and calendar sales also decreased sharply this year, following a national circular issued in late October banning the purchasing, printing, mailing and giving of postcards and calendars as New Year gifts with public money.
"The total value of postcard and calendar orders dropped from 2 to 3 million yuan (333,000 to 500,000 U. S. dollars) last year to only 200,000 to 300,000 yuan," said a manager of the Jingwei Printing Plant based in Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, adding that most government departments and state-owned enterprises, which were once the plant's main clients, had canceled their orders after the circular.
Instead, an increasing number of people started sending their Spring Festival greetings online and through their phones.
According to figures released by the Internet giant Tencent, the number of greeting messages sent through its smartphone chatting application WeChat on the eve of Spring Festival doubled from last year, with 10 million sent in a single minute at the peak period.
Users have been using their mobile phones to send electronic versions of "hongbao," traditional red envelopes of cash gifts given during the holiday. People who receive the e-hongbao can cash the money by linking their debit cards to WeChat.
The company said more than 5 million users collected e-hongbao between Spring Festival eve and 4 p.m. the next day, receiving more than 20 million e-hongbao.
Despite global economic slowdown, China's consumer market boomed during the holiday, especially in online business and the catering, tourism and entertainment sectors, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) on Wednesday.
Without giving nationwide figures, the MOC said consumer market sales in the cities of Beijing and Chengdu had risen by 9.2 percent and 13 percent year on year respectively. According to the MOC, sales in Shaanxi, Anhui and Henan provinces grew by 14.3 percent, 11.2 percent and 10.4 percent respectively.
However, sales of luxury gifts, such as expensive alcoholic beverages and rare seafood, which are sometimes sent as gifts to officials during the holiday, have fallen sharply.
In Fuzhou, capital city of the eastern province of Fujian, a dozen shopping malls saw sales of luxury alcoholic beverages fall by 70 percent year on year in the first four days of the holiday, and sales of rare seafood were down by 50 percent, while sales of ordinary goods went up in general, said the MOC.
Experts have viewed the drop as a direct result of the central government's anti-graft and frugality campaign.
"We often struggled during the Spring Festival period, as it was hard to decide what we should bring as New Year gifts to our superiors and how we should present them," said a local official with Ji'an City, Jiangxi Province.
He said that with the national frugality campaigns, he no longer faced that pressure and could spend the time focusing on family gatherings.