The air quality in China – oh dear.


In my regular web rounds I came across an article over at Kotaku which allows you to compare the air quality in China with the rest of the world. The article links to Air Pollution in Asia, a website which offers real-time data of global air quality. Having lived in China, I was more than aware that the air quality was terrible, but this website clearly shows just how bad it is – it’s horrendous.

We had a smoky day in Melbourne the other day, where smoke from planned burnings out East (a bushfire preventative) had the city so smoky it was like a thick fog. That kind of condition is abnormal for a place like Melbourne, where we’re blessed with very good air quality, but is normal for China.

I remember a few weeks into my stay in China, driving along with Pan Zilli (a good friend), and commenting on the haze. It was very smoggy – with visibility down to a few hundred metres at best, and I said to him, “The air is pretty bad today, huh?”

And his reply, “Oh no! Today is clear, the air is good.”


Sure enough, he wasn’t kidding. That kind of air became normality. Upon my return to Australia, I couldn’t believe how crisp things looked. From the airport to the trees beside the road as we drove home, everything was crisp and vividly clear. Why? Because almost everything in China is hidden behind the almost permanent blue haze. Buildings 10-20 metres away, would still have this haze before them, never crisp and clear.

There was a tower several blocks away from the school we lived which I referred to as Dongting’s Eiffel tower (we lived in Dongting – or was that Xishan district – that never became clear), and it was always in a state of semi-visibility, despite being so close.

For much of the time we spent in China (during 2008), we had coughs and sore throats, particularly my poor wife who spent much of the year sick because of it. Looking at the map – Wuxi (just southwest of Shanghai) has poor air quality – but nothing compared to what you can see around Beijing.

Seriously – that’s a capital O.M.G. Look at that map – it is a *disgrace*. At what cost are the Chinese paying for their rapid progress? The total destruction and pollution of their formerly beautiful countryside? Or at the cost of their citizens.

Years from now, when the people who are living and breathing this air begin to die from various forms of lung cancers, there’s going to be a reckoning. China is trying to do something about it, but the real question is – have they already gone too far

Tian Yi, Wuxi

A bridge at Tian Yi school where I lived – note the haze between the location of the shot and the building in the distance – and that’s a somewhat clear day.

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5 Responses to “The air quality in China – oh dear.”

  1. Austin Guidry (Let China Sleep) Says:

    Yeah, that’s really too bad that it’s become a normality. I’m sure you’ve been paying attention on Weibo, but people are going crazy about it, and the government’s moving to close about 10,000 or 15,000 factories just in the areas around Beijing – it’s not being taken lightly anymore. It’ll change…..but slowly. I know that Lanzhou’s main problem is using coal to cook and heat homes in the winter. In the winter, the PM 2.5 is routinely in the 200-300 range, but in the summer, it’s awesome!!!! The past couple of weeks, it’s been hovering around 75-100!!! I’ve been really enjoying it!! But the past couple of days, it’s been getting back to the normal 150 or so 😦

  2. Marcus Says:

    Oh g’day Austin, long time no speak! I forgot you were still over there, how’s it all going? Sounds like Lanzhou’s a bit dicey on the air quality front also eh?

    The thing is though – do you think just closing 10,000 to 15,000 factories is the answer?? Think about those numbers…15,000 factories…employing how many people? What do those factories do? Who do they employ? If they can just simply close them now- why are they open in the first place?!

    No, I think any solution to Chinese smog is going to be a long and slow process – and that’s from a place where the government can and does get things done (i just wish we could adopt some of that mentality in Australia and our public transport systems!).

    I heard they’re making a massive ‘smog box’ in Beijing, where they can simulate and test smog to try and combat it via scientific means. I also am aware Beijing is prone to bad air from the northern deserts – a lot of dust etc certainly doesn’t help.

  3. Gene Says:

    The water looks awful also.
    For some people, those with respiratory issues would have a hard time in China. The air quality in the USA is much improved over what it was 40 to 50 years ago when in my memory the air quality was much like China.
    This being so in large industrial cities and not so in the countryside.

  4. Meg Says:

    This is so true.

    I’m considering returning to China, and while I remember so many amazing things from my years there, I also remember having a permanent sore throat and sniffles from the Beijing air. Not looking forward to that again!

  5. Marcus Says:

    The problem is….it’s not just about having sore throats and sniffles (and oh do i remember those well) – in Beijing at least, it’s actually dangerous.

    I quit smoking something like 10+ years ago, not a single puff in all that time. WHen I’m in a place like CHina, I cant help but think about the damage that air is doing to my lungs. I haven’t been back to the mainland in a long time, but I was in Hong Kong recently (another city I would love to live in), and the air there was pretty horrible as well.

    As much as I’d love to live in Beijing, i really do worry about the air. I suspect there’s going to be a lot of issues with lung cancer there down the track – there and many other parts of the country, if they dont clean it up quicksmart!

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