“A city besieged” with pollution, but life goes on

The main theme on the front pages of China’s newspapers today is the record levels of pollution that convulsed China over the weekend and into this week. The front page of the Henan Business Times (河南商报) today displays the smog horizon over the city of Zhengzhou, and the newspaper has a special four page section on the pollution called “A city besieged” (围城). In this section the newspaper tries to make sense of why China is being plagued by such extreme pollution at present, and offers its readers the dubious consolation that although there’s basically nothing that can be done about it, it will eventually go away.

See below for a gallery of how a few other newspaper front pages covered the pollution bugbear today, and see also the Links and Sources section for links to a few other pollution-related stories in English.

During the past weekend and into this week, the whole province of Henan, the Henan Business Times says, is plagued by a thick blanket of smog (雾霾) that might only begin to recede by the middle of this week. Yesterday, urban air pollution monitoring websites in 26 cities (mostly in the eastern and central regions of China) reported the highest ever levels of pollution. On the afternoon of 13 January the meteorological office in Zhengzhou sent out a warning for severe smog in the city, and later in the day visibility dropped below 2,000 meters. In warnings sent out early this morning for the Beijing-Tianjin region as well as for parts of Henan and Shandong provinces, visibility was projected to drop below 1,000 meters (and in some areas to even drop below 200 meters).

Why then this all-encompassing smog? As the Henan Business Times puts it: “the experts” have explained many times already, “metereological conditions are not currently suitable” for dispersing the atmosphere that is full of exhaust fumes, smog from burning coal and dust from construction sites. All this filth is now just sitting there, compressed on the ground level, until rain or wind comes to wash it away. Thus as the newspaper laments, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about the overbearing smog. According to an expert that the newspaper consulted, not even the surgical masks that some people are fond of wearing will be effective to block PM2.5 polluting particles from the respiratory system. All we can do is hope that the “metereological conditions become suitable” again as soon as possible.

So until that happens, life in Henan is going on. On the last page of its special section, the Henan Business Times published a series of pictures showing the people of Zhengzhou doing what they always do, such as dancing in the park and walking the dog – all happening under a grey, overbearing smoggy mass just as before. In a forlorn attempt to show that its not the end of the world, the newspaper tells its readers that

various cities in the US and UK experienced similar levels of pollution in the 1840s, yet a few decades later these cities were able to retrieve blue skies and fresh air. Yet where is our blue skies? Nobody wants to climb 300 meters to see blue skies, so to disperse the air and for the sake of our city and people, let’s work hard together!


The gallery below illustrates how a few other papers dealt with the pollution story today. A few papers wallowed in the sheer horrible extent of the pollution (e.g. Jinan Times and New Express: Who will save our air?; others (especially southern papers) boasted of their own still low levels of pollution (e.g. Dongguan Times: The air quality in Dongguan is still pretty good); and still others printed images of blue skies and white clouds in reminiscence of such temporarily lost pleasures (e.g. Oriental Guardian: Blue skies and white clouds, we miss you).


Links and sources
Henan Business Daily (河南商报): 雾霾障目,寒风来疏; 戴口罩“拦”PM2.5?这不科学; 拨“霾”见日,我们该做些什么; 霾若不在,便是晴天
Bloomberg: Beijing Orders Official Cars Off Roads to Curb Pollution
China Hearsay: Airpocalypse Now: I Love the Smell of Emphysema in the Morning
Analects: Blackest Day
Tea Leaf Nation: Pollution Crisis — Everyone in Beijing is a Vacuum Cleaner

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