Changing China

Giant on the move

Is it smog or ‘static breeze’?

August 6, 2008

U.S. cyclist Friedman arrives in a maskWith sensitivities running high among Beijing officials who promised a Green Olympics, including clear skies, any suggestion that the air quality is actually less than clear has caused some hurt feelings among the hosts.

It’s a prickly issue, because some athletes are limiting their time in Beijing, while four American track cyclists arrived yesterday in black face masks.

In fact, weather conditions have run the gamut in the final weeks ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony — from delightful to downright awful — and that has revealed a sharp contrast in the terms many foreign journalists use and those used by Chinese officials and media, who cite a wide range of terms but generally avoid admitting there’s actually any pollution.

These include terms translated as “fog”, “haze”, “static breeze”, “adverse weather”, “sauna” conditions, “temperature inversion”, “cloudy days”, “dark days” and of course “blue sky days”.

“Just like in the shower you cannot see the person across from you, but there is no pollution,” Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing’s municipal environmental protection bureau, reassured journalists at a news conference last week.┬áDays before he said “cloudy days, foggy days do not necessarily result from pollution in the air.”

Some editors prefer to let pictures tell the story, but Du had a ready reply for that too: “Pictures cannot reflect reality,” the Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a report. “They are not accurate. I really urge you not to use photos to base your assessment of air quality.”

PHOTO: U.S. track cyclist Michael Friedman arrives at Beijing airport wearing a mask, August 5, 2008. REUTERS/Issei Kato


I have seen first hand how the weather has been in Beijing over the past week. I arrived Wednesday last week and the next morning was what I have seen many times here on past visits. Gloomy skies and low visibility.

On August 3 the morning was sensational as I went out for a morning run with my wife. Unlike the cyclist pictured above I did not have a mask. I wonder if it really is that bad that you need a mask when only here for a short time.

One thing I have noticed with photography here is that you can shoot different angles and turn a blue sky into a grey sky or vice versa to a certain degree.

Apart from when taking photos I actually enjoy the grey skies. It takes the edge off the otherwise fierce sun.

So glad the games are about to begin. Hopefully now the focus will be on sport.


I spent last summer in Shanghai and Beijing and can attest to the seriousness of the problem.

There is no doubt the smog is awful. On average, I saw blue sky less than one day a week. Its not very hard to feel the effects as well. When it is humid, the smog sticks to you skin. If you wipe your forehead or blow your nose, the tissue is black.

Fortunately for the athletes, it is unlikely that anyone will develop health problems because of the pollution in the short time they will spend there. Yet I would not count on any new records being set in outdoor endurance events.

The Chinese have been preparing for the olympics for about eight years now. This issue has already been the talk of the olympics and I believe that once the games are televised this problem will become big embarrassment for the Chinese government.

Posted by Gerhardt Kremer | Report as abusive

These people have spent their entire lives training for one event. If their lung capacity is affected by the quality of air in Beijing – and I mean no insult to China when I say that the air in Beijing, as in many major cities, is filthy – then they are only exercising common sense. I understand that much of what occurs in the Olympics is an issue of international political importance (go here for 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics ebooks, which include books about the role the Olympics have played in world politics). However, the Chinese government – and all governments – should work on cleaning up polluted cities rather than taking umbrage at athletes protecting themselves from the pollution.

Posted by Gerri Robbins | Report as abusive

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Don’t mistake FOG as SMOG.

I am a Beijinger for about 10 years. it’s a sauna weather, with a strong humidity and high temperature. it’s the FOG that make the sky overcast and gray, not SMOG. SMOG is smoke and fog. almost of the factories in beijing were moved out. only the cars can make smoke, which is much better than ever.

first, pls make clear about the definition of pollution. they are SO2, NO2, PM10. so, you should see the updated data here in te official website. aspx

Have a good ball in beijing, not with prejudice and ignorance.


can’t display Chinese? sorry.


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