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Why Did China Ban Traditional Flying Lanterns?

March 27, 2009 1:39 PM

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.

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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

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March 27, 2009 in Chito Romana | Permalink | User Comments (9)

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User Comments

They banned them because of Obama's hot stanky breath would cause an explosion.

Obama BL0WS

Posted by: ggett | Mar 27, 2009 1:59:30 PM

I guess Pres. Bush was not so wrong after all. We still have terrorists living among us. Obama is laughing, giggling on 60 minutes. What was wrong with him. Was he drunk? He is really stupid. Really, really, stupid. He can't even conduct an interview. If he can't blame Bush, he simply cannot function.

Posted by: Jane | Mar 27, 2009 3:02:50 PM

Keep sniffing the glue, folks!

Posted by: Thundrblt | Mar 27, 2009 5:49:33 PM

it's really pity durling spring festival,no firecrackers,no flying lanterns.

Posted by: Bingsen | Mar 27, 2009 7:26:02 PM

Jane-you are very ignorant. President Obama stupid?? LOL My dear the one thing the first African-American President can NOT be is stupid..Do you recall George Bush? Wanna talk about stupid-look at half of his speeches!Bush got to be pres cuz of his dad and power tyrants--Obama got there on hard work. So he was laughing--at least he didnt sit w/a bunch of kids speechless while the Twin Towers were attacked! Havent you ever gotten a little silly?

Posted by: naniam | Mar 28, 2009 10:05:00 AM

I think this is the best article I ever read!!!! You guys rock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Jonathan Ragheb | Mar 28, 2009 5:51:58 PM

they are right

Posted by: fdyydyd | Mar 28, 2009 5:54:04 PM

this is so sexy

Posted by: sassy girl | Mar 28, 2009 5:55:45 PM

saw some in USA last 4th of July. they could be confused with a UFO. also it was in the flight path over the airport, and could start a fire, if landed with the candle still burning.

Posted by: al hall | Mar 29, 2009 1:11:08 PM

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