Opinion: Pollution could turn China's dream into nightmare
By Tao Xie, professor of political science, Beijing Foreign Studies University
Beijing, China (CNN)-- I landed in Beijing on a December afternoon after a conference in Japan. Walking on the air bridge, I looked out of the window and noticed that it was dark.
Subconsciously, I looked at my watch, and it was 4:40 pm. Though it was winter and the sun sets early, it was too early to be so dark.
It turned out to be another day of heavy smog in Beijing. The moment I drove out of the parking lot, I realized how terrible it was. Visibility was extremely low, as if a dense fog had descended upon the city.
The headlights and taillights were hazy, and I couldn't see much beyond the highway. I felt that the air I breathed in was heavier, and that something was irritating my eyes. The joy of homecoming was instantly replaced by the sadness of living in a heavily-polluted city.
Residents of Beijing and nearby cities seem to have become accustomed to such heavy smog, but those in the Yangtze River Delta to the south have not.
So it became national news when, starting from December, Shanghai, Nanjing, and other cities in that region were cloaked in heavy smog for about a week. Schools and highways were closed, and many flights were canceled.
In the past, Beijing was called China's capital of smog.
Now China has a smog belt that extends from Beijing all the way to Shanghai. It took a little more than three years to build up the high speed railway that connects Beijing and Shanghai, but it took less than two years for smog to spread from Beijing to Shanghai. At this rate, the nationalization of smog will be accomplished in even less time.
This new "great leap forward" in pollution could be as disastrous as the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, when a push to industrialize and collectivize caused a famine that reportedly killed millions of people.
Smog is a major cause of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. According to Chen Fengjuan, a doctor at the No. 8 Shanghai People's Hospital, the number of respiratory patients treated by the hospital in early December increased by 96%, and medical costs for these patients increased by 195%, compared with statistics from the same period last year.
Published date, Jan 8, 2014