Almost a year ago I wrote in my posting “China as I See it“:
[I]t is not uncommon to see city-dwellers wearing face masks to protect themselves from dust, pollution, and germs in general. All across China, cities are experiencing extraordinarily high levels of air pollution. In Kunming, (where pollution levels are somewhat lower than in many other cities in the country), most people do not wear masks that filter pollution particulate matter. Instead, fashionable face masks are often worn as accessories; people want to look good while trying to avoid dust from ongoing construction, germs, and smog. When the pollution is “high” it looks as though there is fog outside. I have experienced this grey/yellow atmosphere in Beijing, produced by extremely dangerous levels of pollution (one can barely see a few blocks away). My teachers claim, as do many others, that it is just fog, but I have noticed that I am sensitive to the air quality as it worsens, and I monitor the air quality index so I know it is definitely not fog when the mountains surrounding the city, or the tall buildings in the distance, are shrouded in a cloud of grey. I bought myself approved masks for heavy pollution conditions, but the majority of the Chinese population buys its masks in convenience stores or other stores where the fashionable models are available. Very few people wear masks that really protect them – although this is beginning to change, thankfully. It’s a small first step because, of course, the greater issue of the pollution itself needs to be addressed.
In Kunming, where I lived from September 2013 until March 2014 and where the air was relatively clear and clean (you could actually see the stars at night), pollution levels would occasionally go above 150 – which means the air quality is unhealthy and that “[e]veryone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” according to http://aqicn.org ). I sometimes found it insufferable. Yet, compared to other areas in China, the air in Kunming was relatively breathable.
Flying over Beijing the pollution is like a wall that one collides with. As you get closer, suddenly, you can barely see a thing outside the airplane window – and what you do see is masked in a thick haze of yellow. This situation is tragic and China has claimed that it wants to reduce its pollution by 2017. Unfortunately, the government has barely taken a stab at it and has censored Chai Jing’s film, Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog, which *was* posted on Youku and Tencent until about a week ago (it is still available on YouTube – a site that is blocked in China). This film could have had a key role in promoting public awareness to pollution’s environmental and health issues. No longer.
Yaxue Cao, the editor of the website China Change, comments in his article Under the China Dome – A Reality Check: “The film galvanized public opinion and consolidated its awareness to an unprecedented level. It peeled apart the multi-faceted causes of pollution. It is a mobilization of the public, and it sets expectations for a war against environmental disasters. The film works on many layers of the public psyche, and not all of them are welcomed by the government. This probably explains why it was spectacularly promoted and then shut down.”
And another article in China Change: The Four Forces of China’s Politics of Smog, by Wu Qiang.
I can only hope the Chinese block of this film is lifted. If you are reading this, however, YOU can watch it: Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog