Today, a continuous stream of reactions to the air pollution that blankets much of Beijing and the surrounding provinces- first, from Evan Osnos:
Air-quality monitors at the U.S. Embassy spat out hourly Twitter readings of “hazardous”—levels that have never been measured in the U.S., even during forest fires. And on Sunday night, the needle hit its limit—500—a point beyond which it could render only the muted plea, “beyond index.” (As Beijingers recall, a programmer on the night shift initially set it to report ultra-high readings as “crazy bad” before diplomats intervened.)
Through it all, the Beijing environmental bureau described the air as “light pollution.” Or, poetically, “fog.”
It is an old issue that returns each winter as the cities’ furnaces roar back into use to deliver central heating, and temperature inversions settle over the North. But more than ever this year, Chinese citizens have taken note of the absurdity. Online, people are debating the best model numbers of 3M masks to buy, and pooling orders for air purifiers. (“Sometimes, I suspect that what we’re breathing isn’t air, but politics,” one person wrote.)
Year by year, it is getting harder to drum up the fog, even though an article in the Global Times quoted the city’s air-pollution chief, Yu Jianhua, in a tour de force of myth-making: “If you compare the air quality on an annual basis, it is actually improving.”
Next, from Tom Lasseter:
The distance between the official line on Beijing’s bad air and a reality that’s as obvious as the sky above is proving to be a challenge for the Chinese government. As with several other high-profile cases this year, the Internet in China, though constrained by censorship, has made traditional propaganda approaches more difficult.
When public opinion amplified by online forums swells to levels that call for “guidance” by the Communist Party of China, officials are caught between contradicting earlier statements or continuing to insist on explanations that sometimes border on the nonsensical. Missteps in either direction run the risk of being criticized at an online speed that outstrips the censors’ ability to delete.
State media said that the country’s largest online retail site, akin to eBay, sold more than 30,000 cotton and respiratory masks on Sunday alone, with more than 20,000 of them going to customers in Beijing.
Using software that allows them to circumvent online censorship programs, some users have posted the embassy numbers on Sina Weibo.
One Sina user said Tuesday, echoing a common frustration on the site: “No one believes in the government, people now choose to take the index from the embassy. How pathetic.”
Finally, James Fallows has more, including pictures showing just how bad it is, and notes that even Chinese media sources are finding it impossible to deny:
Global Times (think Fox News for Chinese nationalists) shockingly uses the word “smog” in a headline on Dec 6, instead of the conventional “mist,” “fog,” or “bad weather.” The story points out that 200 flights had been cancelled in Beijing as of mid-day because of the air quality.