BEIJING – China has made a gargantuan effort to clear Beijing’s smoggy air for an important regional summit this week, closing hundreds of factories and forcing cars off the road, but its efforts have only been partially successful.
On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Embassy air quality monitor reported a reading of 157, a measurement classified as “unhealthy”. Red-faced, the Chinese government has come up with an innovative solution – block the data from being displayed on local smart phone apps and Web sites.
"Upon instructions from the authorities, for this month's air quality data, please refer to the figure by Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau,” a notice in red on the Web site www.beijingair.com said. “We wish the APEC summit a great success."
Indeed, the Beijing government’s own readings on Monday afternoon showed a city average of just 83, and air quality officially classified as “good.” That was the only measurement being displayed on most smartphones this afternoon.
But not everyone was fooled.
“We have found the perfect solution -- never again do we have to worry about Beijing smog,” one Netizen ironically commented.
“We can’t fix the smog, so we fix the smog report,” said another.
The U.S. government’s Web site remained visible on Monday – presumably any attempt to block that Web site that would be too embarrassing with President Obama in town. In any case, the grey skies were evidence enough that all was not going quite as planned.
October was a terrible month for smog in Beijing, and as we reported last week, many people suspected factories were running on overtime around the capital, in a bid to make up for enforced closures during the APEC summit.
But in the latter half of last week, the government’s measures took effect. The sun shone and the skies were clear, so much so that a new phrase was spawned in the Internet lexicon – “APEC blue.”
“It's not sky blue or ocean blue. It's not Prussian blue or Tiffany blue. A few years ago it was Olympic blue, and now it's APEC blue,” posted one user called laoxu shiping on the Sina Weibo social media service.
Similar short-term measures cast aside the smog during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but brought no lasting benefits. Now, the phrase “APEC blue” has rapidly come to symbolize something beautiful but short-lived, something not quite real.
“He’s not really into you – it’s an APEC blue,” went one joke circulated online, while others professed to have found the opposite, something persistent and constant: “He’s so into you, it’s like Beijing smog on a December Saturday.”
Many people thanked APEC for bringing them clear skies and less traffic, with the acronym reimagined to read “Air Pollution Eventually Controlled.”
But others made pointed reference to the authorities’ failure to stop the smog during the rest of the year.
“The APEC meeting proves that our country can treat air pollution in a week, if not for economic factors, instead of in 30 years like Western capitalist countries,” @na_sheishei posted on Twitter. “APEC blue also proves that the lives of Chinese people are worthless."
Liu Yuanju, a Shanghai-based commentator, recalled how hundreds of thousands of people were mobilized to clear snow from the roads during President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972, and people were drilled on how to answer questions from Americans, such as "would you like to visit the United States," and "have you had enough to eat." Work hours were modified so just the right amount of people were on the streets, while others were drilled in showing the appropriate level of enthusiasm.
"The praise of foreign friends is very important to us," he wrote.