On the Beijing Air

posted in: Beijing | 2

Before I came to China, I heard lots of questions and comments about the air quality in Beijing.  It was exceptionally bad for a week or two last winter and it made the international news.  Before I ever left home, I decided that I wasn’t going to complain about the air.  I was just going to deal with it as part of life in Beijing, like millions of Beijingers.  I hope I haven’t complained about it too much, but it is definitely a significant part of life in Beijing.  It is worse than I expected and better than I expected.  And again this week, Beijing’s air made the BBC.

Right after the October holiday (so within a few weeks of my arrival), the air got quite bad.  Just as bad (probably worse) than it was this week.  I was thrown into a world of checking the air quality numbers, buying air purifiers for my house, and getting some masks.  I will say that I wondered what I had done and how I was going to manage living in this city, especially since it seemed like it was business as usual for everyone else.

Then as I got to know a few more people, I realized that it actually bothers everyone.  No one likes the oppressive feeling when the air is bad.  Everyone is really happy when the air clears up.


The APEC meetings came in early November and the government limited the number of cars on the roads and closed lots of factories.  The air was so good that Chinese internet users dubbed it “APEC blue.”  It was pretty amazing, but I didn’t take enough pictures of it—just the corner of this one!

After APEC the air wasn’t quite so blue, but it still wasn’t as bad as some of those October weeks.  For the last couple of months, the air has been decent.  The days it was “hazardous” on the air quality scale were few and far between.  I have learned that during the winter, if it is windy the pollution is not as bad.  So your choice is cold wind or worse pollution.  I take cold and windy!  I have also learned to not obsess over the air quality numbers.  At first I did, checking them every day (at least once).  Then I realized that it was not good for me to obsess over them.  A simple glance out the window tells me a lot about what I need to know.



This past week the air was not great and Thursday was downright awful.  But by the time I read that BBC article on Friday morning a wind had come through and the air was really good.  Unfortunately, the air quality got worse as today went on and the above picture is from about 4:30pm today (Saturday).  The air was rated “unhealthy” at the time.  For comparison, on Thursday at that time, I could hardly see the tall gray building or the tan building.  I stayed inside most of that day, to stay away from the air.


I’m hoping the wind will pick up again and it will be better tomorrow.  I would love to see another sunrise like the one above.  I will say that living here makes me appreciate blue sky, sunshine, and sunrises and sunsets!  The government has said that the air quality will be at acceptable levels by 2030, but that’s still a long time from now.  I hope it happens sooner, but I’m not expecting it.

2 Responses

    • Ruth

      I think it depends on the person and people with respiratory or heart problems are more susceptible. I often notice I’m more susceptible to low grade headaches when the pollution is bad. I think the worst thing is the repeated exposure over time.

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