Arriving in Beijing during Chinese New Year celebrations is a little like flying into a war zone. The machine-gun fire of the crackers and the mortar blasts of the rockets start jangling nerves around noon and continue long into the night. Driving through the city in a taxi, you are treated to at least 10 fireworks displays on any given evening, random flares finding the gaps between buildings and bursting on either side of the ring road. In the morning, the streets and alleys are festooned with scraps of red paper, the remnants of the firecrackers that, during the night, had you waking up up in a cold sweat, convinced that your hour had finally come.
It would be easy to read all this pyromania as pent-up political frustration. Easy, but not necessarily accurate. Reading China is like reading tea leaves: it involves a great deal of guesswork and a great deal of projection. Not that this stops people from trying. Foreign policy wonks and commentators have spent the greater part of the past two months doing just that.