In Beijing, Complaints About Smog Grow Louder and Retaliation Grows Swifter
February 26, 2014
Nearly a week into northern China’s latest airpocalypse, the skies over Beijing are murky and acrid with a heavy smog that shrouds the sun. On social media sites, the yellow, choking air has become something of a meme, as residents post depressing photos of their blackened air purifier filters and hazy urban vistas with comments like #nuclearwinter.
Amid the latest round of smog, anger is rising over the Chinese government’s inability to protect the nation from a pollution crisis that has made places like Beijing “unsuitable for human habitation,” as a prominent state-backed think tank stated in a study released this month that was swiftly censored.
Last week, the official Sina Weibo microblog account of the state-run China Central Television Finance Channel posted two scathing indictments of the Chinese government’s environmental failures. “Does anyone still care about Beijing’s smog?” began one, noting that although the “pollution index is off the charts,” no measures had been taken to mitigate the environmental emergency. A few minutes later came the second post, “Beijing municipal government, don’t hide behind the thick smog,” which warned that “the people have grown numb,” but the channel was “issuing a wake-up call: the government can’t act blind.” It must “protect its territory and not act ignorant.”
Both posts were quickly deleted.
On Friday, after days of a growing outcry, the Beijing government for the first time raised the air pollution alert on its recently established color-coded system to orange, the second-highest level out of four, prompting schools to cancel outdoor activities and some factories to close. But those measures and similar ones taken across the region have failed to alleviate the smog. In Beijing by Tuesday evening, the United States Embassy air quality index meter read 500, nearly 20 times the level of particulate air matter deemed safe by the World Health Organization.
Even as the government insisted it was working overtime to address the crisis, officials were busy retaliating against CCTV. According to employees, an editor at the Finance Channel was fired for posting the offending microblog posts and CCTV was banned from all reporting on Beijing’s epic smog, because, they said, the posts infuriated the city’s mayor, Wang Anshun. Oddly, CCTV is still allowed to report on the air pollution hovering just outside the city’s borders in the surrounding province of Hebei.
Reached by phone, the director of the CCTV Finance Channel, Guo Zhenxi, said he was too busy to comment and hung up.
Censorship, however, is not preventing other Chinese in the polluted region from taking matters into their own hands. Last week, Li Guixin, a resident of Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei, walked into the district court and filed a lawsuit against the city’s environmental protection bureau for failing to curb the increasingly horrendous smog. The lawsuit seeks 10,000 renminbi, or about $1,600, as compensation for the money he has spent on protecting himself against the foul air.
“Since last December, the smog in Shijiazhuang started to get worse,” Mr. Li told Yanzhao Metropolis Daily, a local newspaper. “I had to spend money on masks, an air purifier and a treadmill” for exercising indoors.
Mr. Li’s lawyer, Wu Yufen, said in a telephone interview that the lawsuit — the first of its kind in China — was rejected by both the provincial and the municipal courts. He is still waiting to hear from the district court, but vowed to pursue all legal recourse. “Air quality is a very important issue in our lives,” Mr. Wu said. “When the air is bad, there is no quality of life to speak of. You can’t even go outside.”
Back in Beijing, the authorities are taking a zero-tolerance approach to public expressions of environmental discontent. According to a Sina Weibo post published Tuesday morning, an artist named Du Xia was taken away by the police in central Beijing after he protested against the smog.
A few hours later, the post had disappeared, but the smog remained.Mia Li contributed research.
中國北部最近一次「空氣末日」 (airpocalypse)持續已近一周，這些日子裡，北京天空中黑暗和刺鼻的濃重霧霾遮蔽了太陽。在社交媒體上，「黃色嗆人的空氣」已成為一種可稱為 彌母(meme)的文化基因，一些居民上傳了家中空氣凈化器的黑乎乎濾紙的照片以及被濃霧掩蓋的城市景觀照，還用「核冬天」 (#nuclearwinter)這樣的話題加以評論。
上周，官辦中央電視台財經頻道在其新浪微博上兩次發帖，譴 責中國政府環保失敗。「還有人管北京的霧霾嗎？」一篇帖子開門見山地問道。帖子指出，雖然「污染指數爆表」，但沒有採取任何措施來減輕環境的緊急狀況。第 二個帖子發在幾分鐘之後：「北京政府，別趁着大霧裝瞎！」。這篇帖子警告說，「民眾自然就會麻木，社會也會熟視無睹，但央視財經提醒的是，政府不能當瞎 子，它必須要肩負起自己的責任，守土要有責，莫無知！」
周五，在人們憤怒地呼籲了數日之後，北京市政府首次把最近設立的以色彩表示的大氣污染預警升 為橙色，這是四個警級中第二高的，導致了學校取消室外活動，一些工廠停產。但是這些措施、以及該地區實施的其他類似措施，並沒能減輕霧霾狀況。到北京時間 周二晚，美國大使館測量到的該市空氣污染指數為500，空氣中的顆粒物含量幾乎達到世界衛生組織建議的安全水平的20倍。
就在政府稱正竭盡全力解決這一危機的同時，官員們卻在對央 視進行打擊報復。據員工說，央視財經頻道一名編輯因發佈惹怒官方的微博帖子已被開除。他們說，央視被禁止報道北京這次史詩般的霧霾，因為這些帖子惹怒了北 京市市長王安順。奇怪的是，該台仍可報道籠罩在北京外圍河北省上空的空氣污染狀況。