Smog in China of the most used excuses of expats when thinking about moving to a major city in China. Media abroad has sensationalized China’s battle with pollution. Thoughts of Beijing for most people likely conjure up images of a modern city blanketed in haze with all of its citizens walking

Smog is not always a gloomy haze over Beijing
Another beautiful day in Beijing

around with masks and filters as if to avoid the plague.

By no accounts does China not have a pollution problem. But for the past several years China has been able to own the fact that they must do something about it. One of the reasons why it go so bad in the first place is because of the mindset the general population had about pollution. Besides the fact that, like most westerners, China 10-15 years didn’t grasp pollution as the problem that it

truly is; the Chinese also took pride regarding the smog in China. They saw this as a sign of progress that they were joining the modern, industrialized world instead of being stuck with the lifestyle and problems of the Middle Ages.

It may surprise you to know that the cities you thought would be most affected by poor air quality are not the ones you expected- or have even heard about. In fact, only one out of the 10 cities with the worst air quality in China are in the top 20 most populated cities. Beijing, for example, is the 52nd most polluted city.

Changing Thoughts and Policies about Pollution

Besides the changing mindset of the people, the government has also taken notice. The abundance and cost of coal certainly helped propel China’s rapid industrialization and economic development. However, in the past 5 years China has made significant strides to improve the quality of life in China. In 2012 the government put a strict cap on the use of coal. In an effort to stem the use of coal China is also promoting the clean use of coal through zero emission thermal power plants. This effort saw an 8% reduction of coal usage in the first quarter of 2015 over the same time span in 2014. The government has also poured an enormous amount of time and money into other programs like: renewable energy, decreasing pollution released by companies, public transportation, environmental protection, and social programs aimed at creating awareness with the public.

China's Pollution getting better
The forbidden city side by side comparison of 2 days only a month apart in 2014

Recent Developments About the Smog in China

For the past several years China has had an open dialogue with the US and other countries about ways to reduce the human impact on the environment. China has made many policies changes aimed at reducing the amount of smog in China. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang even went as far as declaring a ‘war on pollution.’ China unveiled a clean water plan that is estimated to cost $320 billion in mid-2014. This came after also releasing a clearly defined clean air plan earlier in the year.

All accounts point to the fact that China’s efforts have not been in vain. A new study reported on by the Huffington Post entitled “Beijing’s Air Becoming More Breathable” recently released shows that Beijing’s air quality has improved 13 percent overall in the first quarter of 2015 as opposed to the previous year. Furthermore, the most harmful particles found in air pollution, PM2.5 particles, have decreased by 31 percent compared to the previous year. Another report, also covered by the Huffington Post, released in August of 2015 reduced the estimated amount of Carbon released by China by 14%. Which in turn, also lowers the global emissions estimates by 5%.

Final Word

Not only is Smog in China overstated in western societies but it is also improving. The government has been able to acknowledge the problem and has taken strong measures to change China’s contribution to the degradation of the environment. In fact, most expats- including myself- are pleasantly surprised at the lack of smog in China. Although smog in China continues to be one of its biggest weaknesses: like many other things in Chinese culture you learn that your expectations are quite far off.

feature image courtesy of Jens Schott Knudsen via flickr.