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Chinese media find silver linings in smog clouds

Air Pollution in China

Buildings are shrouded in smog in Lianyungang, China. Photograph: Chinafotopress/Getty Images


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Chinese media find silver linings in smog clouds” was written by Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 10th December 2013 12.48 UTC

China’s noxious air pollution has made people smarter, funnier and impervious to missile attacks, the country’s official media reported this week, as a toxic cloud covering half of the country began to lift.

On Monday the website of the state broadcaster CCTV published a list of five “unexpected benefits” brought by the smog.

It said the haze had unified Chinese people, as they found solidarity in their complaints; equalised them, as both rich and poor people were vulnerable to its effects; enlightened them, as they realised the cost of rapid growth; and “made Chinese people more humorous”, as smog-related jokes proliferated on the internet.

It had also helped to educate people, it said. “Our knowledge of meteorology, geography, physics, chemistry and history has progressed.”

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the Communist party’s official People’s Daily, added one more advantage: the smog could bolster China’s military defences by affecting guided missile systems.

“Smog may affect people’s health and daily lives. But on the battlefield it can serve as a defensive advantage in military operations,” it said. The article buttressed its argument with a list of historical precedents, such as Serbian soldiers burning tyres to impede Nato planes.

This year China has registered its highest pollution levels in 52 years, according to state media. More than 100 Chinese cities spanning half the country spent early December enveloped by smog. Both articles attracted such vitriol online that the media outlets quickly took them down. By Tuesday afternoon “benefits of smog” was a trending topic on China’s most popular microblog, Sina Weibo, racking up 240,000 posts.

The Oriental Daily newspaper thanked the pollution for “keeping it so that internet users can only lay down and spout vitriol online, creating quite a few good paragraphs”. The real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang called the articles “anti-humanity propaganda”. Another user wrote: “I’ve been poisoned for the past few days, hasn’t that done enough harm?”

On 6 December Shanghai’s air quality index hit 482. Levels above 300 are considered hazardous. Authorities cancelled flights, closed schools and forced cars off the road; for the first nine days of the month, they warned children and the elderly to stay indoors. A cold front on Tuesday cleared much of the smog away.

In the nearby Hangzhou, students conducted their daily flag-raising ritual indoors, using an image of the Chinese flag displayed on a big-screen TV.

Xiong Yuehui, head of the science and technology department of the ministry of environmental protection, told Xinhua that China’s air pollution was a problem of political will, not technological ability. “The smog is everywhere,” he said. “If one place is free of smog, then it will be a news.”


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