|December 09, 2013|
Smog makes you funnier and smarter, Chinese media claims
|Toxic air pollution may be pulverizing the alveoli of hundreds of millions of Chinese but it is also making them more equal, more humorous and even more intelligent, state media claimed on Monday.|
In a controversial and widely mocked comment piece entitled, "Five unexpected gains the haze has brought", a journalist from state television channel CCTV argued that while Chinese people might "hate" the pollution, it was not a "completely useless" phenomenon.
For while filthy air was a dangerous "enemy", it was simultaneously bringing "major benefits" including making people more united, more sober, more equal, more humorous and better informed.
Smog was making Chinese people equal since it affected the lungs of both rich and poor, the article argued. It was sobering since it made Chinese reflect on the cost of their country's economic boom. It was also a boon for Chinese humour, since residents of mainland China were turning to comedy in order to keep "light hearts" in the face of what has been dubbed the "airpocalypse".
But perhaps most importantly, pollution was improving Chinese minds, CCTV's journalist argued.
"Our knowledge of meteorology, geography, physics, chemistry and history has grown [because of pollution] and the standard of our English has improved too," the author argued. "Without this haze, would you know what PM2.5 was? Would you know that 60 years ago the haze claimed 12,000 lives in London? Would you even know the words "haze" and "smog"?"
The article was published as large swathes of eastern China continued to choke on some of the worst pollution on record with air quality levels nearly 20 times below those deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.
In Shanghai, China's financial hub, dozens of planes were grounded and some of the tallest skyscrapers on earth disappeared almost entirely from view as a foul-tasting fog enveloped the city over the weekend.
City officials urged children and the elderly to stay indoors and pharmacies sold out of facemasks as residents attempted to prevent "beyond index" levels of pollution from penetrating their lungs.
In Nanjing, another major city around 170 miles west of Shanghai, fashion models took to the catwalk sporting surgical masks.
Environmental group Greenpeace blamed much of the pollution on coal-fired power stations and factories in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong.
The CCTV editorial infuriated pollution-weary micro-bloggers with more than 80,000 internet-users commenting on the article within two hours of its publication.
"At first I thought this was fake news, but the article really exists," wrote one. "Then I thought it was satire, but after reading the article I found that the writer did indeed hold these views. In the end, I opened the window and inhaled a big breath of Socialist happiness."
A female user wrote: "The first benefit of haze that comes to my mind is saving money on foundation since my boyfriend can't see the defects on my face anyway."
Editorials in many state-controlled newspapers sought to shift responsibility for the pollution from the government onto the population on Monday.
However, the editor of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post berated Beijing, labelling President Xi Jinping's attempts to improve the environment as "half-hearted at best."
"It is sad to note that despite the severity of the smog and its hazardous impact on people's lives, neither the central government leaders nor the officials from those affected cities have come out publicly to apologise and discuss ways to address the issue," Wang Xiangwei noted.
During the 1950s and 1960s, "smog killed thousands of people in Britain before the authorities there took decisive steps to introduce the Clean Air Act to bring pollution under control," Mr Wang added.
"It is time that the mainland leadership learnt from those lessons and takes steps to introduce China's own Clean Air Act."
Speaking at a conference on Saturday, Yang Xiong, the mayor of Shanghai, admitted his city was suffering from severe pollution.
"But it will be fine in the following days," Mr Yang said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Meanwhile, another government-controlled media outlet published an article claiming pollution could give China "a defensive advantage in military operations."
While smog was bad for Chinese health it could help the country on the battlefield by hindering missile strikes, the Global Times newspaper said.