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.