Chinese New Year Fireworks Disaster Burns Mandarin Oriental

Posted by: Dexter Roberts on February 10, 2009

As always, the Chinese New Year in Beijing was celebrated with a near constant two-week-plus-long barrage of fireworks. But the cacophony-filled final day had a surprising and unfortunate twist: stray firecrackers set off a fire late Monday night that destroyed the almost-finished 30-story luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel, killing one firefighter and wounding six other firefighters and one construction worker.

Given the volatile ethnic problems China faces, particularly with its Tibetan and Muslim Uighur minorities both of which Beijing has accused of plotting terrorist acts in the past (many aimed to disrupt the 2008 Olympics, but successfully foiled, if Beijing is to be believed), a first concern at least in mind was whether the torching was a deliberate act of sabotage. Or could it be related somehow to growing labor unrest fueled by rising unemployment, particularly for China’s migrant workers, I must admit also was a possibility that crossed my mind if only briefly.

But by mid morning, the much more prosaic cause had been revealed: a group of employees from the national broadcaster CCTV (the Mandarin Oriental building belongs to the national broadcaster and is adjacent to the new futuristic CCTV tower—both buildings were designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhass) had hired a company to set off the firecrackers that inadvertently started the destructive fire.

“The people who ignited the fireworks are being questioned by police,” a city fire official announced at a press conference. “The fireworks they set off were much more powerful and explosive than what was available at roadside stalls during the Spring Festival and therefore needed approval from the municipal government before being allowed in the downtown areas,” he continued according to a Xinhua report on the fire.

Now some are already wondering what fallout faces CCTV, already criticized for splashing out so much money on its new national headquarters. And with the Chinese economy feeling the affects of the worldwide slowdown, some too are asking whether the luxury building will or should, be rebuilt.

Reader Comments

peace4all1

February 11, 2009 7:33 AM

I'm very much impressed by the quick investigative work done by Beijing Police and the unusual transparency of this news development that lead to a public apology from CCTV HQ. That could be a silver lining from this thick dark cloud. Since this Reporter couldn't answer the question of "to rebuild or not to rebuild" for this doomed architecture, here is my 2 cents as a Chinese American. If there is a quick decision to dump the highest ranking officer of CCTV and Chinese economic situation shows good improvement by this summer, this building will be rebuilt in 2009. Otherwise no one in CCTV will touch this question in the near future. Unlike Wall Street bigwigs, Chinese officials are much more sensitive about Chinese main street opinions.

Jagadeesh Venugopal

February 11, 2009 10:41 AM

The fact that India might surpass China in a quarter or two of growth should come as no solace to Indian policymakers.

The questions they need to address ought to be different: are they doing everything they can to maximize Indian growth prospects? Are they making it easier for Indians to start and profitably sustain new businesses? Are they making the necessary infrastructure in cleanliness, roads, water, and power to sustain large scale growth?

India can grow quite well even if it doesn't equal China's growth for some time. Conversely, the fact that India grew a little faster than China for a few quarters in a global recession should not necessarily be cause for rejoicing. The metrics for India's success are not a comparison with China, but what it can and should achieve for its people.

Steven

February 11, 2009 10:45 AM

I thought the building will be rebuilt or reconstructed soon. I have some reasons:
1. The building is insured. It's a huge lose for the insurance company not CCTV. The money will not come out from government's pocket again.
2. The cost for the building was about 1 billion RMB according to some reports. The reconstruction maybe cheaper.
3. CCTV is not only a propaganda machine, but also a money machine. It has huge profit every year.
4. It is impossible for Chinese to allow a burned building left there where a lot of tourists visit. No matter what, the reconstruction will happen.
5. The building materials are cheap right now.

peace4all1

February 11, 2009 12:39 PM

Steven has created an interesting question for Dexter to follow-up. Does the insurance policy of that burnt building covers damages caused by man-made external fire? If I were the Insurance Company, I would fight against paying out any compensation for this man-made disaster.

elizabeth williams

February 28, 2009 4:56 PM

i really enjoy fireworks but it would be nice if u gave sum really gave me sum real info ok thankyou

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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