BEIJING, Jan.12 -- When the rest of us are happily ensconced in our cosy environs, they are out there in the freezing cold. For they have a job to do. They have the responsibility to make the streets look brighter and more colourful.
We can see them hanging lanterns on the trees along Chang'an Anvenue, changing the lightings on the walls of tall buildings and giving a final check to the newly installed lighting displays in and around Tian'anmen Square.
But why do all this in the winter months? Simply because that's the time when we celebrate Christmas, the New Year and start preparing for the Chinese Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival.
"The festival season means a rush time for us," says Xiao Huiqian, a professor with the China Academy of Building Research, who has been involved in Tian'anmen Square's lighting projects for half a century.
Although no statistics are available, Beijing-based businessman Li Qiren says the demand for lightings increases by about 50 per cent during the festive season.
The Chinese lighting market is worth 100 billion yuan (US$12.3 billion), says China Illuminating Engineering Society (CIES) Secretary-General Liu Shiping. "And we can still see an annual double-digit growth for the industry throughout the next decade."
Lighting has become an important part of large, expensive property projects, for it enhances the image of the landlords and their property and makes tenants willing to pay the high rental charges.
"It's a matter we take very seriously," says Global Trade Centre's (GTC) Wu Jie. The customer service manager of one of Beijing's top-end office buildings says decorative lightings help lift a property's image and influence the decision of clients looking for office space.
GTC's present project is estimated to cost more than 3 million yuan (US$370,370) and will continue for half a year. Designed to use many advanced lighting technologies, the project is much more complicated and time-consuming than those GTC has previously undertaken in the past three years, its lighting engineers say.
Major property project operators don't want to waste time to gain fame and glory. Many expensive housing projects in large cities have had their lightings done by consultants. Some others such as the China World Hotel and Kerry Hotel have in-house lighting specialists.
China's booming demand for lighting has brought major international players to the country, with companies such as Royal Philips Electronics, General Electric (GE) and OSRAM, a SIEMENS subsidiary, setting up shop in the country a long time ago.
GE has played a significant part in the lighting projects in Tian'anmen Square, Shanghai's East China Sea Bridge and Nanjing's Yangtze Bridge II, according to GE Consumer & Industrial Asia Pacific Chief Executive Officer Darryl Wilson.
Opportunities for small local companies, too, are abundant.
Beijing has about 1,000 lighting companies, mostly small and privately owned. Since many of them are former construction companies, they can get sub-contracts for overall building projects.
But in large projects such as major public facilities and events, it's the international firms that bag the lighting projects. "The festivals are our peak time, while the rest of the year is mainly for design and maintenance services," Beijing New Landscape Co President Guan Li says.
His company is one of those that has for the past three years won the contract for maintenance of lighting displays in Tian'anmen Square - a deal 500,000 yuan (US$62,000) a year.
The trends are changing and some companies find it hard to keep pace with them. But actually the industry can benefit from the changing interests.
During the 1980s and 1990s, people saw bright lighting as good lighting. But today, the criteria are quite different. Good lighting does not necessarily have to be bright; it has to be aesthetically appealing and trendy.
Customers nowadays want lightings to be efficient too. Experts say too bright an effect can hurt the eyes, besides making the electricity bills an unnecessary drain on a firm's pockets.
At least that's how GE sees the future. There has been a visible shift in tastes in China, says GE Consumer & Industrial Asia Pacific Chief Marketing Officer Lili Wang. "From simply lighting to decorating, and then to saving energy, GE has developed a complete package to solve the lighting problems," she says.
Beijing Illumination Equipment (BIE) Company General Engineer Zhang Yangguang says that at a time when society is desperately trying to save resources it is natural for him and his staff to accord top priority to using as little electricity as possible for maximum effect.
BIE is a State-owned lighting equipment and services provider and is responsible for fulfilling GTC's lighting contract.
"Better lighting does not necessarily mean more bulbs," he says. It's important for engineers to have a long-term plan for better lighting. And that's necessary not only for their own convenience, but also for saving as much electricity as possible.