The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

NewChinaHand: Blown Out Of Proportion


The cornerstone of any toddler’s birthday party, balloons are a symbol of peace, love and understanding. Even man’s best friend is in awe of the wonder of this seemingly humble invention.

Not just for children and dogs, though: balloons have been making all sorts of headlines in China, pitting, yin-yang-like, joy against sorrow and, often, safety against danger.

Hong Kongers are all too aware of the dangers of these potentially malevolent spheres. Nobody wants to begin the new year by dwelling on last year’s Luxor hot air balloon crash, but it’s very much part of the popular consciousness here and has contributed, along with the Egyptian revolution, to the steep decline in tourism in that town.

On a smaller scale, metallic balloons are banned from Hong Kong’s MTR network, due to previous incidents where they interfered with electric cables causing delays (child thankfully unattached at time).

Over in the mainland, though, balloons are very much in vogue recently. First up came the news in late December that a company in Jiangsu province had become China’s first certified producer of hot air balloons. Previously only imported models had the necessary safety qualifications. Will this, then, lead to an outbreak of ballooning enthusiasts across the land, eager to enjoy the emancipation of what are essentially giant Chinese lanterns with people baskets?

Happily we didn’t have to wait long to find out. In the early hours of New Year’s Day, 35-year-old chef Xu Shuaijun set off – ‘with attitude’ – from Fujian province in a hot air balloon. Destination: (er, to conquer?) the Diaoyu islands, initiating perhaps the first-recorded example of ‘Montgolfier diplomacy’, the latter being a reference to the French pioneers of hot air balloon technology that I coined *literally* just now. Let’s see if it takes off.

Anyway (#15 most overused word of 2013 when starting a sentence according to the BBC, just above ‘Yeah, no…’), Mr. Xu was unsuccessful in whatever his initial aim was, damn-near killing himself in the process and further demonstrating the limitations of China’s Air-Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which now appears vulnerable to a fleet of 18th century French paper manufacturers.

But this is where we come full-circle: despite Mr. Xu’s intentions, the harmonising power of the balloon could not be so easily deflated. First noted missing by Taiwanese authorities, they alerted the Japanese coast guard to the plight of the amateur aeronaut, who plucked him from the brine and delivered him to the Chinese maritime police. Everybody happy.

Such delightful international cooperation shows the universal value put on human life and bodes well for the future of a region where tensions are high following the escalation of provocations in recent months.

To what should we attribute this joyful turn of events? The humble balloon, of course! “The cornerstone of any toddler’s birthday party, man’s best friend’s best friend and a symbol of peace, love and understanding,” as a great man once wrote (about 5 minutes ago). There are, sadly, no reports on whether the pilot was flying one of China’s new homegrown HG2 models, though. It was most likely an imported one.

With China now (safely) producing its own balloons, we can all hope to see the region float on an updraft of calm. A balloon-craft carrier is the next logical step in this aerial peace process, with possible exchanges of balloon animals on the (slowly-approaching-but-beautiful-from-this-altitude) horizon.

Mr. Xu, however, will likely not be able to repeat his inadvertent peace mission any time soon: in China, as regular followers of NewChinaHand will know, inflation is a ballooning problem.

Selected sources:

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2014 by in NewChinaHand.

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