July 27th, 2009
05:16 AM GMT
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BEIJING, China - There's something strange these days over Beijing, something many of us here have not seen for a very long time. As I look up, there's this strange blue-looking color - at first I thought the officials may have been dying the pollution blue, or maybe I had lived here so long that I had forgotten what a sky should looked like.

I've lived in Beijing for a little less than three years, but one of our local office workers made the remark that she had never seen such beautiful, white fluffy clouds, so I knew something had changed. Don't get me wrong, this place is still polluted, but since the Beijing Olympics it seems the number of adversely polluted days is about the same as the number of really good days we had last year, in other words, not a lot.

And it might just be making the people who live here a little happier, as well. In the parks, on the streets, many Beijingers seem to be smiling a little more, perhaps a bit more relaxed.

So how did this happen? The government has been trying to clean up this city for years - building subway lines, converting buses and taxis to natural gas, and stopping cars from driving one day a week (a watered-down continuation of the tough traffic controls in place during the Olympics). Some major polluters, too, have been closed down and relocated - notably Beijing Capital Iron and Steel, the biggest single contributor to the city's air pollution problem. Now that the Olympics are over there's been a massive drop in construction, and so dust particles have been reduced. But also playing its part is the global economic slump; many of the factories which were meant to close temporarily for the Olympics have never re-opened.

An old joke was never check the stock market or government statistics to know the state of China's economy, just look to the sky. When those gray skies are blue, the economists would say, start to worry. Well, the sky has been blue a lot this year, but in a bizarre coincidence, as economic growth here started to head toward 8 percent, we seem to be getting more polluted days. I'll let you know what happens of the GDP numbers hit double digits.

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soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. hello

    yes. very blue sky, China's communist government is very powerful

    July 27, 2009 at 6:10 am |
  2. Craig

    The skies in Shanghai are blue too. There seems to be a lot of effort to "clean up" but the blue skies I saw in late June were stunning.

    July 27, 2009 at 6:18 am |
  3. florian burris

    I totally agree with this. I live in Beijing for most of 2007, and I can't remember how many days I looked up and couldn't see the 16th floor of my apartment building (where I lived) You think L.A. is bad...It is nothing compared to Beijing.

    July 27, 2009 at 6:28 am |
  4. Gilbert

    John Vause should put on his glasses. We did have some good days but overall the air quality has been pretty bad, just like today. Twitter US Embassy correctly reported today AQI over 200. The Beijing official figures become a joke. Check my blog (blog.strategy4china.com) for monthly overview and comments.

    July 27, 2009 at 6:35 am |
  5. Matt S

    This is good news for Chinese lungs, but bad news for global warming.

    July 27, 2009 at 6:52 am |
  6. Rocky

    Yep, after years effort for cleaning air and shut down the pollution source in Beijing. It really got good impact on air condition now. more and more ppl are less worry about air pollution and could take deep breathwithout any cencern.
    Anyway, compare with most developed country, Beijing still got distance to bridge for. Let's see how chinese goverment to make it happen....
    really got confidence on....

    July 27, 2009 at 8:20 am |
  7. Adam Shardi

    Here in Africa, specially Somalia, We are fed up with the sunny days with hotness and the blue sky, we love the cloudy days while Chinese people sunny days. Nothing is good to be continuous, things should be changed.

    July 27, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  8. martha mead

    i live in beijing too, and i must say that whilst june had a fair few number of days with bright skies, july month has been pretty smoggy, grey, and unpleasant for the lungs. my sense is that nothing much has changed.
    and as for the chinese smiling – the chinese smile can mean many things beyond happiness and relaxation, perhaps they're getting as annoyed as i am about the media and internet crackdown...

    July 27, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  9. Jhon

    I also live in Beijing for 2 years now, and to be honest, I don't really see any signs of a crisis here and in the afternoon I feel like I smoked 2 packs of sigarets when I'm outside. Here they say that 1 year takes 4 years of your life because everything goes so fast. Here everybody has a Marlboro Cowboy life expectency. Here you don't need to save money for your pension years...

    July 27, 2009 at 8:35 am |
  10. Cynthia

    It is important to have very clean air to breath. The wealth of any nation is its health

    July 27, 2009 at 8:36 am |
  11. Timothy Cooke

    I'm a college student at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Last year I went with my University to study in China. When I was in China last summer, it was so bad you couldn't see the sun. I'm glad that things have changed now.... hopefully it will stay that way.

    July 27, 2009 at 8:54 am |
  12. NanduM

    If just being able to see a blue sky is such a big deal. God help China!

    July 27, 2009 at 9:11 am |
  13. Marc

    This is only my first year in Beijing, so it's hard to see the change, but I"m glad it's changing.

    One more thing though, about the GDP-growth being at around 8%, most of that is probably pushed by the gov't stimulus and little to do with actual employment or factories doing better btw.

    I know 8% looks impressive when you look at the numbers itself, but behind the numbers hides the fact that many of the medium and small sized firms are struggling to stay afloat. But please, don't take this out of context, China is still doing pretty well. I think the impact of the financial crisis is much less felt here in Beijing than other parts of the world.

    July 27, 2009 at 9:12 am |
  14. Jimmy

    never come to Jinan(another Chinese big city),beijing air pollution compared to Jinan is nothing,really.u don't really want to live there

    July 27, 2009 at 9:19 am |
  15. Rob

    Clearly, Beijing is seemingly looking much better these days. And no doubt thanks to a slumping economy and the cleanup for the Olympics.
    But, Shanghai has a long way to go. But for an occasional blue sky, it still seems like I'm living in an overturned ash tray...

    July 27, 2009 at 9:28 am |
  16. Eric Mizrahi

    When the author thought they were dying the pollution blue, there came no surprise to me, because that's what communists would do anyway to hide their problems.

    July 27, 2009 at 9:29 am |
  17. Kai W

    It's so wired. I don't understand why foreigners are never satisfied. When the sky is grey, most of you criticized the pollution. When the air quality turn better, most of you criticized the economy. I keep thinking why why why??? We want to be part of the world, be friends of you and make effort to improve, but why some of you never have a little bit of open mind. Is that so hard for you to just give a little bit of encouragement and praise? Some foreigners may never feel Chinese are friends - some may be caused by China's fault, but is that the only reason, or some people may never want to change their attitude???

    July 27, 2009 at 9:32 am |
  18. John

    Amazing, How the China government do that?

    July 27, 2009 at 10:09 am |
  19. Nathan

    Intresting, I was just in Beijing for my first time a week ago, I don't know if the headache and sore throat was caused by the air... ...but it started about 12 hours after landing, and ended about 12 hours after leaving. Although China was very exciting and interesting, it's safe to say I was glad to be back to the blue skys of Hannover, Germany.

    July 27, 2009 at 10:21 am |
  20. MB

    I don't think what you said are true. The pollution is still bad here in Beijing; I did not see many clear days this summer.

    The pollution here in Beijing is mainly from car emmition but not factories.

    July 27, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  21. MIke

    It's sad that Chinese economic success depended upon exploiting natural resources, polluting the air & environment, damaging their natural environment, damaging it's citizens health.....China, and the whole world, need to find ways to have successful business & manufacturing enterprises that do not spew poison back into the environment.

    July 27, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  22. Stephen D

    I checked the US Embassy weather and air quality station while I was in Beijing in March; the numbers are meaningless if you are trying to compare them to the official Xinhua numbers. They use different criteria. That station is just propaganda in reverse.
    Give the Chinese some credit; BJ air is definitely cleaner than just two years ago, and you can see blue sky. They have been working on the problem for years, and the results are beginning to show. Not too bad for a city not far at all from a sandy desert.

    July 27, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  23. Pete

    China is all right. Their industrial cities are a lot like Chicago used to be when it was the industrial hub of the United States.

    July 27, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  24. Chris

    I have lived in Beijing on and off for about 4 years now. While I have noticed an improvement in air quality, it is still easily the most polluted air I've experienced in any major city in the world. Try driving 3-4 hours south into HeBei province. The stell mills there (mostly producing steel pipes) belch so much coal-fired pollution into the air that even on a clear day, the sun is just a hazy orange blob in a very grey sky. So I suspect Mr. Vause is just benefitting from the window dressing in the capital city. Things in the rest of China haven't changed at all.

    July 27, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  25. Mark

    I guess everything is relative. I was just in Beijing for two weeks on an adoption trip. Our guide said repeatedly how much better the air in Beijing was. While I loved the city, I HATED the smog. In 14 days we only saw about one day of almost clear skies. We are so happy to be able to bring our daughter out of that to Houston, which isn't exactly the clean air capital of the US.

    July 27, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  26. caminito

    Any knowledgeable person in Chinese questions knows that statistics released by their government are "doctored" before being released or in many cases, simply invented. This being supported by
    the often absurd jumps of the relevant figures.

    But the international media and the self appointed Wall Street gurus
    are not willing and/or capable to acknowledge these facts and publish blindly what this clouded in secrecy and all censoring government tells, without any verifiable support.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:12 pm |
  27. Sam

    bad news for China, good news for.... well, it looks like China "Bubble" is over...who is next

    July 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  28. Shel

    Wait a second, there's no such thing as global warming, so whats the need to clean up the air we breathe? /end sarcasm.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm |
  29. Oker Rap

    Correct Matt...

    Pollution causes global dimming which blocks up to 20 % of the suns rays, helping to stem the effects of CO2 on global warming. Once we clean pollutant particles from the air....LOOK out! Pollution particles are the only reason we aren't under water right now.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:44 pm |
  30. Kiki

    I lived in a little village in one of Beijing's outer districts for three years, and we had some pretty nice days...you just had to get away from the downtown to enjoy some blue skies :)

    July 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  31. SMM

    I've just returned from two weeks in China. Over that period, in three cities including Beijing, we saw blue sky exactly twice. Otherwise, thick smog obscured every view. When our plane took off from Beijing on the way to Xi'an, visibility on the runway was no more than a quarter mile. This air pollution is bound to affect Chinese life expectancy.

    July 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm |
  32. wkchin

    It seems that the global warming problem is caused alone by China and/or India and we are clean of causing the damage. We do not really know for sure what are the dominant causes for climate change even for the scientists but we are quick to point fingers at others.

    July 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  33. Matt

    Ahem. It's spelled "dyeing" when you color something. Dying is something completely different.

    July 27, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  34. jake

    You can grow economically and have cleaner air at the same time. The US passed the Clean Air Act in the late '70s, then saw an economic boon for most of the '80s and the air quality improved dramatically. Too bad people forget this and use economic scare tactics not to clean things up.

    July 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm |
  35. Susanne

    My husband and I just returned from a trip to China. While in Beijing we were treated to one day with a beautiful blue sky and the other days the pollution wasn't nearly as bad as we expected. All in all we were incredibly impressed with China – recycle bins everywhere, CNG busses and taxis, solar water heaters, and even a wind farm off the coast of Shangai. China was indeed filled with construction – new highways, new sky scrapers, new airports, new subways. The country seemed to be booming. Our conclusion was that the US needs to get moving before China complete takes over. We need to stop the political squabbles, get out of useless,expensive wars and start working on making the US a better more productive place.

    July 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  36. Jhon

    Sussanne,

    I can sum up 50 cities that can dwarf American cities in China. No way that America can catch up to China anymore. In 2 years time, I have seen cities grow from small towns to metropolitan cities with 20 million inhabitants!

    America is still using a lot of infratructures from the 50's! If you want to see how a real modern city looks like, you need to come over.
    I indeed believe that in 10 years time China will be way bigger than America. America needs to open his eyes and stop ignoring this or it will lose his leadership position. I even wonder if America or Europe will still be able to turn the tide, before Chinese will become the second language in highschools.

    The biggest engine is that when the leaders say they want to go that way, everybody follows. You can have critics on this government, but to be honest, the rules are pretty easy. If you follow them, you can't go wrong here. It's not like American justice that has a 1000 backdoors for every crime. Personnaly I like that, and it gives me a peace.
    And on the other hand, this is also THE land of oppurtunity. I make 6 times more than I do in the US, and when I look at my chinese collegues, they make what a blue collar worker makes in the US. sure, for the moment you only see this in the big cities, but even that is changing. Everybody gets about 10 to 15% raise a year here.

    July 27, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  37. Andrew

    In response to Kai W.,

    I think the reason that we are calling grey skies pollution and blue skies economic recession is not because we don't want to be friends with China, rather it is an indirect reaction to our deepest fears over impending Chinese economic dominance....

    July 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  38. Tony KC Lee

    Blue sky is good omen. China will grow very fast. This is good news to the world. Let's hope 2010 will be a prosperous year for everyone.

    July 27, 2009 at 3:58 pm |
  39. max

    mother nature is crying .. first the industrial revolution from west, polluted her and now the internet revolution is polluting her again from east

    July 27, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  40. Morten

    Kai W,

    Sure we don't think the civilian people in China is bad, its just the other people we don't like, the communist militia that has never been a real government. but just one big corrupt gang of liars, murders and greedy people.

    They really don't care about the environment or the people that lives outside the government office, just look at the poor farmers that communist rebels told they protected and fought for in the civil war against the ROC nationalist government.

    They really don't care about the farmers and don't want them to move closer to the big cities to earn money to survive.

    No they want them to stay where they are and starve to death.
    The way the communist party is ruin china is chocking, more and more beautiful land is disappearing and more people are suffering.

    Its going to get very ugly, the people is going to start more and more fights with the communist party because they want freedom and better health for they families, they don't want to live in a country where some greedy and bloody people tells them that they just have to move or die because some communist members need they land.

    July 27, 2009 at 5:35 pm |
  41. Yong

    Beijing has a really nice weather since olympics.. I have been living there for 2 years, and the weather has changed a lot.. As for bad contamination.. I think Guangzhou or Chongqing might be the worst in China... Plus Guangzhou is very humid

    July 27, 2009 at 6:31 pm |
  42. laowao

    OK, I have translated this page into Chinese. More Chinese will give their comments. The URL is below

    http://www.laowai-talk.com/2009/07/27/cnn%E5%8C%97%E4%BA%AC%E5%A4%A9%E7%A9%BA%E8%93%9D%E4%BA%86%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E7%BB%8F%E6%B5%8E%E9%BB%84%E4%BA%86/

    July 27, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  43. gogo

    hello,
    I am from Czech republik and I will tell you a joke from old time before 1989 when communists lead our country : Do you know why is there the red sky??? becose they shot communists to pieces in the west.

    July 27, 2009 at 8:28 pm |
  44. ChinaTraveler

    It is rare that the air is good. Just like other places, the wind cleans it out. Overall, the pollution is extremely bad in Beijing and Shanghai. I see nothing improving that for many years to come. When it rains....get out of it.
    Just last month, you could not see the building one block away. Worst I have ever seen it.

    July 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  45. George

    Jake what planet are you from, could it be the USA,

    "You can grow economically and have cleaner air at the same time. The US passed the Clean Air Act in the late ’70s, then saw an economic boon for most of the ’80s and the air quality improved dramatically. Too bad people forget this and use economic scare tactics not to clean things up."

    A typical Yankee statement, the USA has been the only country that would not sign up to the Kyoto Agreement because it would have meant USA business spending $Billions to clean up its act. So its Management
    closed down factories, sacked workers, reduced the overheads and outsourced the manufacturing to China at reduced costs thereby returning increased profits to shareholders. Just look at your automobile industry for proof the biggest polluters in the world, what has happened, closed the industry down and manufacturing in China
    soon you will have Chinese cars in the USA made by a joint venture with Ford?
    Think about your other problems re Health and Medical

    July 28, 2009 at 1:55 am |
  46. Beijingstudent

    It seems like the weather tells a different story than the Beijing numbers. Although some government efforts can be seen in this improvement, I think the economy (or the lack of it) is more responsible for this. Either way, my experience is that even the blue skies are not enough to ensure good health in China. There needs to be more improvement to help average Chinese.

    July 28, 2009 at 2:27 am |
  47. A Chinese

    With a polluted sky, you complain that we are destroying the environment with industrialization. With a blue sky and cleaner air, you say our economy is busting. You Americans always have unconstructive criticism against China; its getting boring to be honest.

    July 28, 2009 at 3:34 am |
  48. Wang Meng

    I have to say, such foreign reporters and western media, especially such American media has strong bias on China, on Chinese, on Chinese government. What ever we do, it seems adversely affect the world and make Chinese live worse, only those who are from US, Europe really take care of Chinese and could save Chinese. If your guys are talking about pollution, see to your self first. Who is the most oil consuming conuntry?? Who dare start the wars all over world in order to sell his weapons??? And, I have to say, if you are not comfortable about Bejing dry, windy weather , do not bleam to Chinese, do not blame Chinese government , nor Beijing.

    July 28, 2009 at 4:27 am |
  49. Kiran

    hello,
    I am from Czech republik and I will tell you a joke from old time before 1989 when communists lead our country : Do you know why is there the red sky??? becose they shot communists to pieces in the west.

    July 28, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  50. H stewart

    some of these comments are quite hypocritical,
    in trying to improve a CITY of OVER 20 million people is not easy,
    the Chinese government has done a wonderful job over this last decade.

    I've grown up in the West and sometimes the statements
    people make about China and the 'communist' government
    seem to be more sinophobic more than anything....

    July 28, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  51. wilson

    US trade and economic policies toward China are undermining US economic and military security. They urgently need fundamental reform. Fueled by record global surpluses of production and trade, particularly with the US, China’s modern productive and financial capacities soared, becoming far more diversified and less dependent on the US or on any set of industries. Even as China’s economy grew at record rates, four times faster than the US since 2001. There is a great report at http://www.wesrch.com about China’ Soaring Commercial and Financial Power. Here is the direct link if any one is interested in reading it: http://electronics.wesrch.com/pdfEL1GP9E0KLOOC

    July 28, 2009 at 5:52 pm |
  52. Manuel Vilhena

    Finally good news about China.

    July 29, 2009 at 8:23 am |
  53. Morten

    Wang Meng, why should we not blame the communist militia for destroying the environment in Asia and most of the world, the communist party don't care about the civilian people or the environment , look at the way they are treating people who wants to share they view or opinion about they own country, they never ever cared, they only want power and people to be quiet.

    Look at what they are doing to the beautiful landscapes in China, destroying it just to build new factories or luxury houses to they own party members.

    Nothing has eve come out of a communist rule.
    Just look what happen to the sovjetunion & North Korea, total collapse and a nature that is nothing to write about, total destruction its all that is left.

    Nobody wants to live in that kind of places but the communist never ever care about what other people feel or think.

    Its a rule that should never exist, period.

    July 29, 2009 at 10:18 am |
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    I would like to say that China and India will in any case be the roaring economies for the coming generation. These 2 countries have 40% of the world population who will continue to consume everything. It doesn't matter where the money comes from ( USA, Europe or anywhere else). Anyhow all the institutions and banks will continue to invest money in these 2 countries. So stock market in these 2 countries is the best bet in long term. If governments in Europs and USA lend money at 2-3% to the banks, they will have a good return on their investments in these 2 countries. These countries together produce more engineers and doctors and any other professionals in the world than whole of world put together. Part of these professionals will be leaving country and hence sending back money from richer countries to home countires which will fuel the growth even further.
    Only way China and India will stop is if they decide to go to war ( it would be ofcourse stupid) against each other. So put your money in India and CHINA. I bet, that in 10 years ( if not quicker) Chinese share market will reach atleast 12000 and Indian Sharemarket will reach atleast 40000

    August 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm |
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