Air in Beijing

Posted by Lucas Pratt on 4/24/2017

It has been over two months since I first started my four month long journey.  Now that I have spent a substantial time in China, I am able to think about stereotypes I had about China and its people, witness how those stereotypes may have came to be, and then experience first hand on why they are wrong.  While there are many students who wanted to talk about common stereotypes relating to people, I want to talk about a stereotype that concerns the city as a whole.  

In America, whenever you think about China, you think about pollution.  The idea of a bustling city with a sheet of dark ash hangs over your thought of China like… a sheet of dark ash.  Even among my Chinese friends, who have been to China multiple times, like to joke about the absurd pollution levels in China.  And, this is not an unfair assumption to make.  Due to the rapid industrialization of China, whenever another factory is made, it has more and more harmful effects on the environment around them.  The smog has gotten so bad it is drifting over seas into San Francisco.  In the winter, “pollution days,” days where the level of pollution has gotten so bad, it is not safe to go outside, so students take online courses from their homes.  In the very beginning of the exchange, it was very clear that we needed to find a mask to wear in China, so that we could safely go outside on days when the pollution was very bad,  So, it is clear that the pollution is a problem.

However, after two or three weeks of living in China, I almost forgot there was a pollution problem at all in the city.  I had actually forgotten to pack the mask I was planning on wearing for the trip.  And, although my host parents had an extra one for me, I was apprehensive on how living for a couple of months with this new mask could impact my life.  It turns out, it didn’t impact me at all.  It turns out, like most stereotypes, the pollution problem in Beijing is completely overblown.  There is no cloud of ash hanging over the city.  In fact, the only indication of any sort of pollution is a slight haze in the air if you look at the sky at the right angle.  And yes, I have had to wear my mask.  But I’ve only worn it three or four days, and those were days I absolutely had to wear it.  Most of the time, it is simply more convenient to go out without one.  

This stereotype at first glance seems to mostly be about a slight adjustment of the scenery of Beijing.  However, I think there are a lot of additional assumptions that get made with this smog assumptions, like people who live here are dirtier, or are not as healthy.  It’s important to realize that while, yes their lives are a little less clean, they are certainly more similar to our own then they are different.  Just like all humans around the world, most of Beijing’s citizens had little to no choice being here, and are simply adapting to the life they have here.  I think this just proves that despite on how much we think we know about our global neighbors, we still have cloudy vision about the things that are most important.