Beijing has been getting a lot of bad press in recent months for its smog problems. To be fair, there indeed were days when you were thinking that the world is coming to an end. This problem has been discussed in this blog before. But I must say that as a Beijing veteran of more than 12 years things have gotten significantly better compared to when I first arrived here in 2003.
On a smoggy day
Imagine the worst days of the 2015/16 season (refer to the picture above) and extrapolate them over a period of 2-3 months straight. That was what a winter in 2003 was like. You could basically set your clock accordingly: when the heating was turned on mid November until it was turned off mid February the sky was gray and you would come home blowing black stuff out of your nostrils into a handkerchief. Nowadays and on average, you get about 2 smoggy days every week, the rest of the days is pretty nice and clear.
It is said that the improvement has political reasons. Being at the center of Chinese political power, Beijingers are actually quite powerful because of the circles within which some of them move. Not to say that all Beijingers are buddies with Xi Jinping but some are and, fortunately, nice air is a problem that either gets solved for everyone in a geographic area or for nobody. Come to think of it, that’s pretty democratic although probably more by coincidence than design.
But it really is more like this now
In conclusion, Beijing has become a much nicer place to live in terms of smog levels. Lots of reporting in the media is painting a different picture, though, and perhaps it isn’t all wrong. There are reasons for this, however. Some foreign reporters (and Twitter would be’s) may never have experienced a Beijing winter 10 years ago. Also, many of those who have (i.e. real Beijingers) are now becoming more confident in voicing their concerns via the anonymity of the internet; although they are confident enough to not need that anonymity anymore. Despite the fact that there still are smoggy days, the smog hysteria of today is a result of people becoming more demanding (and not the smog getting worse). Imagine smog from a decade ago meeting the confidence of today’s Beijingers. You would have a revolution.