China Musings #7: Dealing with Pollution


The first time I experienced the infamous Beijing pollution was during a 2-day layover on my way to North Korea. As we were were leaving Beijing, I remember asking a classmate who had previously lived in Beijing: “if you knew today that those four years of living here were going to shorten your life expectancy by 6 months, would you still do it?” The question led to a lively discussion as we were headed to the airport, yet we never really reached a conclusion.

Little did I know that two years later I would find myself asking the very same question as I go in and out of Beijing. While the overall situation in China has become better (NYT: Four Years After Declaring War on Pollution, China Is Winning –, Beijing still far from being a welcoming and easy place to live – environmentally speaking.

The picture is from two weeks ago during a sandstorm when AQI levels hit 1,200 – which is ranked hazardous (the “green zone” is anything under 50). Eye infected, lungs filled with dust, and just generally feeling shitty. Now I wasn’t going to write a rant about the pollution, but I wanted to share the ways how I have seen people adapt and become creative around this issue. A few anecdotes from my many visits:

  • There is a brewery in Beijing that offers a discount on one of their beers depending on how high the AQI level is (the more polluted, the higher the discount).
  • I have seen real estate agents offer air purifiers as a way to rent out their properties: “rent this unit and get a complementary XiaoMi air purifier!”
  • There are plenty of bars and restaurants that advertise with "we have clean and purified air!" on their internet listings as a way to attract costumers.
  • The company I work for recently launched a new line of merchandise products... among them a branded respiratory mask (apparently some restaurant chains sell branded masks too).
  • Our employee kitchens have respiratory masks stocked right among all the snacks and drinks (...Snickers, potato chips, respiratory masks....). Ours cost, but other companies offer them as free perks.
  • Just as you would expect, some beauty brands have released entire pollution-dedicated product lines like face masks or "Anti-Pollution Emulsion."

While I still don't know the answer to the question I asked my classmate back then, I remain naively optimistic about the regenerative capabilities of my lungs.

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