Smothered by Smog, Day by Day

Since 2011, every winter, major Chinese cities appear on global media always with the word “smog”, attached with a picture of a seemingly ghost town in those typical horror films. Just a few weeks ago, when I was at Beijing International Airport waiting for transfer, I was hoping to see the world-(in)famous scene of air pollution which is also a tool for the Western media to mock at the growing Chinese dragon. For better or worse, this was what I saw around 8am there.

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Just after three days since my arrival in my northwestern hometown, the Beijing International Airport had to cancel most of flights due to worsened air condition.

Smog is a “big city problem”. It’s also seen as a early stage of economic development, in which the environmental and ecological problems are increasing and previously ignored. Before the 2000s, my home city was the best example of the worst air condition city in China. Older generations told us, in those years, if somebody wore a white face mask outdoors for a few hours, there would be two black dots appearing on it — how much polluted and harmful air did people actually inhaled for all these years? But my city was only a medium size town with three million people, located in the vast western land — our problem was nobody else’s problem. Nowadays elderly Beijingers remembered there was smogs in the capital far before the 2000s. At that time, no name was given to the smoky sky with forever color of grey, the locals only knew that, the old way to praise the days of fall and winter “with extremely blue and high sky” was no longer applicable. Nobody in China who has watched the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympic Games could forget, some athletes from the US were wearing anti-poison respirators. People could get used to feeling bad in their own throats and having lung problems, but only to realise the unaware threat to their own lives when others starting to protect themselves from the air made them “lose face”.

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There have been more and more discussions concerning smog in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin online. Frequently asked questions include “what is smog”, “what is PM2.5”, “what harm would smog cause”, and “what could prevent smog killing us”… The convenience which provided by the new media creates a perfect platform where real and fake infos mix and travel from anywhere to everywhere. Some posted articles on public accounts of Wechat, claiming the smogs that are inhaled into people’s lungs will forever stay in human bodies. Some believe agaric could clean up the poisonous from the air, therefore buying a big amount agarics and cooking them in as many dishes as possible were popular for a while. Experts come to refute rumours.

Every year, smog in big cities becomes popular topics in “friend circles” of Wechat, Weibo, and also on traditional media. However, lacking of education on the matter is still the main reason for why there is no effective means to solve the problem and to prevent the numerous harms it causes the urban population.