Why Did China Ban Traditional Flying Lanterns?

Mar 27, 2009 9:39am

By CHITO ROMANA, Producer, ABC News Beijing Traditional flying lanterns were first used by soldiers in ancient China who released the paper lamps lighted by candles into the night sky as a military signal. This primitive version of a hot-air balloon was known as “kong ming deng,” or kongming lanterns, named after a legendary Chinese strategist who used them about 1,800 years ago. This practice somehow evolved into a traditional ritual that has become a part of Chinese festivals, along with dumplings and firecrackers. Ordinary citizens released the flying lanterns as a symbolic way of expressing good luck during the Lantern Festival and the Autumn Moon Festival. People often wrote their wishes on these lamps, which could fly as long as the candles kept burning, sometimes reaching as high as 1,000 feet. The ritual also took on a romantic meaning when lovers adopted it during Chinese Valentine’s Day, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh moon on the lunar calendar. So it came as somewhat of a surprise to the Chinese public when the police in the resort city of Sanya declared that the flying lanterns posed a threat to civil aviation. A police official told state media the flying lamps disrupted airline schedules by delaying 61 flights this year at Sanya’s international airport. As a result, a citywide ban on the sale and use of these lanterns took effect this week. The most serious case occurred during the Chinese New Year festivities in February, according to the police. Hundreds of passengers were stranded for more than an hour on the night of the Lantern Festival, the 15th day on the lunar calendar. On that night alone, 15 flights were delayed in Sanya, apparently because of the flying lanterns. This seaside resort is located in the southern tip of tropical Hainan Island, which is billed as China’s Hawaii. The city became well known to international TV viewers when it hosted the Miss World competition for four years. It is now a popular destination for Chinese and foreign holiday-seekers, and most tour agencies have included the release of the flying lanterns as part of the regular tourist itinerary. Sky lamps attracted some controversy earlier this year when police investigators attributed a fire in Zhengzhou, a city in central China, to a flying lantern that fell on a residential area. The city then decided to ban the lanterns as a fire hazard. According to state media, seven cities across the country, including Xian, Nanjing and Wuhan, have prohibited these sky lamps. But how easy will it be to stop something that has become part of Chinese tradition? Read more blogs by Chito Romana Read more blogs by ABC News staff

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