Air pollution in Beijing spiked higher on Sunday as more traffic and fireworks caused smog on the traditional Lantern Festival, when millions of migrant workers flowed back to cities.
The Lantern Festival formally marks the end of celebrations for the Lunar New Year period, 15 days after it began, and is celebrated by viewing lanterns and setting off fireworks, among other activities.
The government issued a smog alert on Sunday for central and eastern parts of China, the official Xinhua news agency said. Heavy air pollution in recent weeks has been blamed on coal-burning and auto exhaust emissions.
02-24-2013 18:00; PM2.5; 316.0; 366; Hazardous (at 24-hour exposure at this level)
— BeijingAir (@BeijingAir) February 24, 2013
Local officials urged people to limit the amount of fireworks they set off, CCTV reported.
The Ministry of Railways estimated around 6.4 million people would make train journeys on Sunday.
Many of China’s migrant workers living in rural areas delay their return to their workplaces beyond the official public holiday, which lasts only a week.
In Shanghai, worshippers thronged the Jingan Buddhist Temple, burning incense and tossing coins into a giant urn to make wishes for the coming year.
Shoppers snapped up dumplings made from glutinous rice with sweet or savoury fillings, called tang yuan, traditionally eaten on the holiday.
“The pork ones sold out early. We can’t make enough,” said a clerk at a branch of the famous Shanghai dumpling chain Wang Jia Sha, who offered crab meat or sweet sesame paste alternatives.
Outside Beijing in Yuxian, a rural part of Hebei province, residents marked the festival by holding a parade with a dragon dance and releasing red paper lanterns like small hot-air balloons into the sky.