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China's State Media Shows Unusual Transparency in Beijing Smog Crisis

BY Julia Wetherell | Tuesday, January 15 2013

Beijing seen from the International Space Station in 2010 (Wikimedia Commons).

Dangerously high levels of air pollution in Beijing have prompted remarkable transparency from the Chinese state media this week, with the safety of children and others vulnerable to smog apparently trumping censorship mandates.

The media has been reporting openly on the high concentration of toxic particulate PM 2.5, a figure that was previously repressed by the government, as a 2006 WikiLeaks cable revealed. One nightly news program offered a critical editorial from one of its anchors, taking state agencies to task for their failure to curb industrial waste.

Tea Leaf Nation reports that social media has been afire as well, with weibo users swapping pictures of the streets of Beijing and surrounding smog-choked cities, along with screenshots from a host of air quality apps that have experienced a huge download spike. A whole subsection of Internet humor has grown out of the subject; one of the most popular hashtags has become “I don’t want to be a human vacuum cleaner.”

In the past, the Chinese government has touted pollution as one drawback of the country’s meteoric rise to economic prominence. Like Americans in the 1960s and 70s, China’s growing middle class has formed a base for a growing environmental movement — and with the Internet at their disposal, there’s a much wider platform for protest.

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