site: HOME > > Economic > Opinion
Air with Chinese Characteristics
Summary:It seems Beijing officials can't change the air, and, thanks to the U.S. motoring station, they can't even change our way of assessing at it.

By Lao Yu

Economic Observer Online

Nov 2, 2011

Original article: [Chinese]

 We all breathe the same air, and we’re all equal before death; such sayings were once the opium of the people, but they shouldn’t deceive those inhaling Beijing’s smog.

Air isn’t the same everywhere. Yes, we live under the same sky as Beijing’s privileged, but we don’t have their trees, ponds and parks. No matter how large the diameter of the toxic particles, they inhale fare fewer than we do.

“We have made some progress by our own standards,” Du Shaozhong (杜少中), a spokesman for Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau, said in a message denouncing the U.S. Embassy’s air testing data.

There's always an option when you need to convince everyone that they're  safe - if you can’t change the world, then you only need to change your way of looking at it. This approach has been perfected across China, leading to wage growth, property prices rises, happiness indexes, melamine and gutter oil.

This might amuse the officials in charge of statistics, but not the ordinary people whose health, happiness and prosperity they’re supposed to be measuring.

“You can’t believe that data from the U.S. Embassy!” wrote one official, questioning the reliability of a monitoring station that has consistently indicated hazardous levels of pollution in the capital. His argument – that the data only represents a single site, not even an entire district of the city – caused an uproar online. The U.S. embassy’s pollution monitor isn’t an attempt to undermine the Beijing government’s environmental monitoring; it’s a useful measure of the air quality for people nearby.

The rejection of any standard except the official one, even when it means asking people to deny the evidence of their own senses - this is the crux of the problem. It’s frightening when questions of health are politicized. Fortunately, propaganda isn’t effective when it endangers people’s health; they’re more concerned about the accuracy of data than its source.

Pollution has given Beijing smog so thick that you can sometimes only see your own feet. When it settles on the city, it reminds people of the awfulness of their surroundings. The official data, updated once every 24 hours, is utterly useless. If you relied on the official standard, you’d never know what was in the air - the city has no interest in telling people truths that will scare them. Given its duty to keep them calm, Beijing’s government is hardly going to introduce a genuine pollution measure. Instead, we can all try guessing - how much carcinogenic dust will we have to inhale today? And if the U.S. Embassy’s data goes offline, the game will become more fun.

Alternatively, we could try convincing ourselves that the lungs of the Chinese people have their own national conditions, and, unlike foreigners’ bronchi, can cope with air made in China. In that case, let’s have more smog!

The translation of this commentary was edited and rewritten in places by Will Bland. 


Comments(The views posted belong to the commentator, not representative of the EO)

username: Quick log-in

EO Digital Products

Multimedia & Interactive