Beijing Pollution at
Image Credit: Berserkerus

Beijing Pollution at "Crisis Level"


No one who has visited Beijing recently will be surprised to learn that pollution in the capital has been so bad that the air quality monitoring system used by the U.S. Embassy here has described the pollution as being off the scale.

It’s little wonder that a city official has reportedly just described the air quality as having reached “crisis level.”

On the morning of December 5, I thought it was snowing when I first looked out my window. The smog was so dense that I couldn’t even see the restaurant that’s only about 50 meters from my house.

I checked the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau’s reading. Data from the bureau for between 8 pm on December 4 and 8 am the next morning showed the pollution reading was 150 to 170, which equates to Level 3 on the bureau’s rating system. Level 3 is designated as “slight pollution” that will cause “some irritation amongst healthy people.”

So I checked with other media sources, and found that most were instead using air monitoring data from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The data was shocking.

The index used by the U.S. Embassy measures particles under 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) compared with the between 2.5 and 10 micrometers used in China’s official readings. According to the U.S. index, at 7 pm on December 4, the concentration of fine particles in Beijing was 552. The maximum value on their scale is 500, meaning Beijing’s air quality was so poor that it was described as “beyond index.”

The city’s deteriorating air quality (this was the second time in about a month that Beijing’s pollution levels had exceeded the U.S. index) has prompted considerable frustration among many Chinese, and pressure is growing to include the PM2.5 data as the U.S. Embassy does.

Disappointingly, the bureau is resisting such pressure, despite the fact that informing the public would allow people to be more aware of the health risks and take necessary precautions. Following a series of days of heavy smog, a growing number of people have been buying masks and air purifiers. A friend who works at an electrical store told me that sales of air purifiers had recently jumped 200 percent on the usual number for this time of year.

The Environment Ministry is clearly aware of the problem, and says it has been seeking the public’s view on whether to include the finer particles in its readings. Unsurprisingly, a worried public does indeed appear to want the PM2.5 measure to be included in the standard air quality monitoring system.

Still, don’t expect a change anytime soon – the ministry says that it is listening, but that it needs time to discuss and evaluate the issue.

December 12, 2013 at 09:56

All I can say is ‘I’m glad I live in Sydney’. And so are a lot of Chinese who’ve paid top-dollar on real estate to live here.

Resident of beijing
January 17, 2012 at 01:20

Dear Reader

During my time in Beijing over the last 6 year I have grown used to beijing air pollution. I can say that the last half year has been the worst experience of my life. I am now at the point where I plan to move from Beijing and china. Leaving a successful business and friends behind because of low life quality due to pollution dominate my life… Imagine that you everyday see street fires and smoke rising from hutongs when you trabel outside 4th ring road, top that up with traffic jams that circle the city, and of course the many coal power plants; It get’s to much very quickly.

I fear for my family’s health and the many Chinese that can not afford expensive air cleaner.

It’s childish and pathetic that some pro china bloggers from smear the truth. And even more disturbing that the Chinese government is so arrogant to simply not care for the Chinese people’s health and only for the profit from the county’s rapid growth.

It’s tragic that after so much good from Beijing, that the progress will be stoped by pathetic planing and the oblivious local government.

With regards

December 19, 2011 at 10:14

Pollution (of all kinds) are not new in china.

Just use google and look up “china pollution pictures” (without the quotes) and you can see them for yourself. In living color and those pictures were taken by chinese themselves so no excuses of make up stories from Westerners.

I would give direct links but The Diplomat would not allow posts with links from outside.

December 17, 2011 at 16:12


I’m not sure if you’re new to this site, this particular Vietnamese antagonist labelled himself as “a_canadian_observer” is simply, as always, throwing in his cheap shots every time there is an article on China but he has absolutely nothing of substance of his own to say. There is not much to get excited about this site now that the articles and the comments are getting too much too predictable; predictably boring and tic-for-tac attacks and counter-attacks by the usual (anti-China) antagonists and (pro-China) protagonists.

December 17, 2011 at 10:33

What happened was actually that people in US and EU got tired of the pollution and forced the governments to put restrictions on emmission. Thus the companies out-sourced because other countries governments was eager to get this production. Now these governments have problems with their people. You can still in-source the production back to the original countries, and this will also eventually happen.

December 16, 2011 at 17:33

Still waiting for “insider’s info”? In case you guys didn’t notice the author is Beijing-based, I’ll copy his info here;
Mu Chunshan
Mu Chunshan is a Beijing-based journalist. Previously, Mu was part of an Education Ministry-backed research project investigating the influence of foreign media in shaping China’s image. He has previously reported from the Middle East, Africa, Russia and from around Asia.

December 16, 2011 at 03:53

True, the air pollution in Beijing is unreal.

December 15, 2011 at 03:26

This is not real! It must be an attempt by Westpac’s media to demonize and smear china. We need John Chan’s, Yangzi’s, JUSTSAYNO’s etc… expert opinion and insider’s info on this tomic.

December 14, 2011 at 22:21

Exactly! That’s the problem….they have had a huge opportunity to create Mich better infrastructure but instead have settled for auto-dependent development. Doesn’t make sense.

December 14, 2011 at 19:04

To get rid of the pollution, you outsource all the jobs and set emission standards for cars . So all new cars in California can only put out so much smog .

December 14, 2011 at 17:50

there is no wind to blow the smog away, beijing is land interior so the air just stays there unlike ocean port you get air draft. biejing is like a city in the prairies or plateau why the city doesn’t ban gas buses or cars is beyond me and the scooters are motorcycles are heavy polluters. China has the opportunity to make from scratch infrastructure that is car free or no car that uses combustion exhaust fuels. the fumes from cars exhaust are ‘toxic’

December 14, 2011 at 14:05

The air pollution here in Shanghai also becomes heavier over the last half year, and especially over the last month.

Everybody is talking about the monitoring system and which standard to use. But it seems nobody is talking about waht to do about the reasons of the pollution.

What has been done in other cities with this level of pollution, f.ex. London in the 50′s and L.A. in the 80′s?

December 14, 2011 at 07:20

For those that think that China’s air pollution is limited to China, need only look at mercury air deposition readings along the “up-wind” portion of the U.S. Pacific coast. The results of cranking out gizmo’s for walmart powered sub-bituminous coal and the explosion of automobiles is affecting us all.

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