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Rumor spurs demand for peaches and firecrackers

By Xu Chi  (Shanghai Daily)

08:33, June 07, 2012

BEIJING residents have been setting off firecrackers late at night and rushing to the supermarket to buy all the canned peaches they can lay their hands on.

But they're not celebrating ... they're afraid that angry gods are about to take their children away.

A rumor, which began among villagers in Hebei Province, said an ancient temple had collapsed after an earthquake in Tangshan City on May 28.

As a result, ancient Chinese gods would be emerging from the ruins and take young boys and girls from their families, the rumor said. The only way to prevent this was to set off firecrackers and eat yellow peaches.

According to Chinese tradition, setting off firecrackers drives away evil spirits, while taozi, the Chinese word for peaches, sounds the same as "boy escaping" in Chinese.

Although the Hebei Province government quickly issued a statement to say there were no problems at any of the province's temples, the rumor, which was later posted online, spread like wildfire.

According to the Beijing News, residents in Fangshan and Daxing districts of the capital are complaining about neighbors setting off firecrackers late into the night.

"Loud bangs can be heard from every direction at night. It's like they are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year," complained a Fangshan resident surnamed Wu.

He said when he objected the families told him they had to do it or their children would be taken away.

There was panic buying of canned yellow peaches in the district.

"The product became extremely popular these days," said a supermarket worker. "Dozens of canned peaches are being sold each day, while normally very few people would buy one in a week."

A resident surnamed Sun said he had been sent to buy peaches as older family members had insisted because of the rumor.

Fangshan District officials told the newspaper that some sub-district governments and neighborhood committees have been trying to tell residents that they shouldn't believe the rumor and have issued a ban on setting off firecrackers at night.

Zhao Shu, an expert in Chinese folk customs, told the newspaper there was no direct evidence to show that any damage to a temple would lead to any kind of disaster or retribution by the gods.

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