China Power

Going to Beijing? Be Ready to ‘Eat Sand.’

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China Power

Going to Beijing? Be Ready to ‘Eat Sand.’

Beijing’s air pollution level reached “beyond index” as a large sandstorm swept over.

Going to Beijing? Be Ready to ‘Eat Sand.’
Credit: Flickr/ Gabriele Quaglia

When Beijing citizens woke up on the morning of May 4, they found the world was gray and yellow, as if “the sky was engulfed.” As a large sandstorm swept over northern China, Beijing’s air quality hit a new low, with pollution levels soaring “beyond index.” 

Based on the U.S. Department of State Air Quality Monitoring Program in Beijing, the city’s air quality index (AQI) remained “hazardous or beyond index” the whole day. The “hazardous” level brings the risk of:

Serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; serious risk of respiratory effects in general population. (So) everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.

In fact, Beijing was not the only city suffering from extremely bad air. According to China’s Central Weather Bureau, the sandstorm covered China’s ten northern regions — Xinjiang, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang — spanning 1.63 million square kilometers.

With no prospect of escaping, the Chinese public showed a great sense of bitter humor. Satires were created and repeatedly posted on China’s social media site, like Weibo and WeChat. “In Beijing, we have smog in February, sand in March, and catkins in April, but today we have the darn combo,” one such post read.

The satire was adapted in various cities or regions. Even the Hebei Provincial Weather Bureau forcasted the weather in a satiric way:

With the heavy wind, cooling temperature, and sweeping dust and sand, people living in most parts of our province need to wear a coat and be ready to eat sand.

Behind the bitter humor is people’s growing anger and the Chinese authorities’ suppression.

In 2015, one of China’s most famous female TV reporters, Chai Jing, released an independent documentary, Under the Dome, investigating China’s smog and the sources of air pollution. Within a couple days, the documentary attracted more than 100 million views online and prompted more than 280 million posts on Chinese social media. Yet the sensational effect on the public also led to the censors’ crackdown. The documentary, along with thousands of voluntary discussions and comments, was ordered to be removed from all Chinese websites within a week.

As China’s air pollution worsens and more common people start to react, environmental protection gradually becomes a sensitive issue that could trigger the government’s “stability maintenance” measures.

In 2016, some citizens in Chengdu, a city in southwestern China, wore masks and protested against smog in the center of the city, but their brief sit-in was soon stopped by the local police. Several protesters were even taken away for questioning.  

Undoubtedly, the Chinese government is trying hard to curb smog, but the air quality hasn’t shown any sign of recovery so far.

According to weather forecast, the air pollution from huge sandstorm torturing northern China will hit southern China very soon. No one in the nation can escape from breathing the polluted air “under the dome.”