Mar. 23, 2023

Nobody Willing to Breathe Foul Air

February 24, 2011

Source: China Youth Daily,

Reported by: Wang Shichuan

The Global Times on February 23 reported that on February 21, dense fog had caused Beijing’s skies to retain high levels of pollution - making it the first day of 2011 that Beijing air quality was classified as hazardous. According to Agence France-Presse, independent monitoring by the American embassy in Beijing showed that the city’s air pollution on February 21 “surpassed the worst detectable level.”

With Beijing’s air quality exceeding acceptable levels of pollution, it would be feasible to say that Beijing’s air pollution is too severe to be detectable. According to the Municipal Environment Bureau’s readings, the air quality index (AQI) reached a high of 333, or level five pollution. The Environment Bureau suggested that “the elderly and children [should] avoid going outside.”

The terrible air quality reminds us once again to curb urban air pollution.  

Prior to the February 21 air quality rating, Modern Express reported that businessman Shi Yuzhu wrote on his microblog: “The enterprise of Zhang Yue, chairman of the Broad Air Purifier Group is doing well. When he travels he takes along air testing equipment. I was curious to see the instruments and wanted to take a look at them myself. These instruments had recorded the air quality in the cities he had visited. The data had been converted into the number of high-tar cigarettes smoked by a person breathing that air for a day. The record was as follows: Lijiang 1, Beijing 21, Guangzhou 25, Shanghai 9, Nanjing 9, Changsha 13, Chengdu 12, and Wuhan 13. If I lived in Lijiang and smoked 20 cigarettes a day, the degree to which I am harmed is equal to that of non-smokers in Beijing.

If these data are merely the result of an insider’s random test, then research conducted by Zhong Nanshan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) can prove the severity of the air pollution. At the Yangtze River Delta Air Pollution Control Forum on June 12 2008, Zhong said that clinical and operational statistics showed that the lungs of Guangzhou residents were black by the time they reached 50 years of age. “Air pollution has made lung cancer a common disease: The Yangtze River Delta is facing the threat of complex air pollution!”

In an era of sharply deteriorating air quality, anyone living in cities suffers from breathing polluted air. For a long time after arriving in Beijing, I had a bad and persistent cough which could not be cured with medicine. My cough was due to Beijing’s dry, polluted air.

Air pollution also harms our heart and blood vessels, as well as our lungs. Statistics show that if the weather is hazy or foggy, there is a 20 percent increase in patients visiting hospitals for respiratory complaints. Research also indicates that air quality influences our health more than drinking water does. Invisible motes, bacteria, volatile gases, and metal particulates that we inhale are root causes of over 68 percent of human diseases. The University of Hong Kong analyzed visibility and mortality in Hong Kong from 1996 to 2006, and found that on average 1200 people died per year from air pollution. 

It is fair to say that just three decades ago the Chinese would have been unable to imagine the affluence of today’s society or the air pollution. “Driving [a] BMW while drinking dirty water, this is a satire on modernization,” said Zhou Shengxian, China’s Minister of Environmental Protection. Driving a BMW while drinking dirty water, eating abalones beside the garbage dump - this is a modern irony. More ridiculous is that most people cannot afford to buy BMWs and yet have to suffer the harm caused by drinking dirty water, eating dirty cooking oil, and breathing polluted air.  And yet, almost every city is working on improving livability. However, if people cannot even breathe clean air, happiness and livability will be reduced to empty talk.

Translated by Tong Jun

Proofreader: Kirsten Allen, Karen Marshall

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