Is Beijing getting smoggier?

Guest post by chinadialogue intern Huang Lushan

When you mention smoggy cities, most people immediately think of London: thick smog enveloping the city, blocking out the sun and the sky and making it hard to see anything – like a scene from a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery. These were my impressions of London before I came here. Yet, when I actually set foot on this land, I experienced a glorious autumn, with crisp air and cloudless blue skies.

These days, it’s Beijing that’s becoming a city of smog. On October 30, Beijing issued a yellow smog alert for the first time this year. Over the past week, Beijing has been shrouded in smog and the usual autumnal beauty has been hidden in grey mist. 

Suddenly, vocabulary like API, PM2.5, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and respirable particulate matter fill the newspapers. Ordinary citizens don’t understand these unfamiliar terms or the complex data involved. But they know all too well the nuisances a smoggy day brings: keep-fit fans have to wear masks when they go out for their morning work-out, or simply have to give up their exercise altogether; with visibility sometimes less than 100 metres, truck drivers and white collar commuters alike have to drive at crawling pace,; air passengers face the inconveniences of flight delays, often left with no choice but to wait helplessly at the airport.

The man on the street doesn’t know whether Chinese or US air quality criteria is better; he only cares about when the hazy weather will come to an end. But the good weather people so long for is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, a report from Shanghai’s Fudan University that the city’s smog contains carcinogens is bringing people even more concern. 

Will Beijing repeat London’s past mistakes and become a city of smog? Though Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau deputy director Du Shaozhong is taking great pains to ease concerns through his blog, netizens still describe Beijing’s smog as a “poison”. And, perhaps feeling humour is their only weapon, they have mockingly changed the words of Beijing’s famous Olympic theme song: “Beijing welcomes you” has become “the smog welcomes you”. 

Translated by chinadialouge volunteer Charlotte Foster 夏綠蒂.福斯特

Image from dutotime