Market News

 November 10, 2014
In Beijing, Clearer Views Hide Real Life

 As she does every year on the same day, Ms. Zhu hauled a large wreath of multihued paper chrysanthemums to Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in western Beijing. Ms. Zhu, who declined to give her full name, planned to burn it, as Chinese tradition dictates, to honor her husband and parents, who are buried here.

But when she reached the cemetery's Office of Burning on Thursday, she found the ritual had been banned during daytime hours for two weeks.

"APEC restrictions," her friend explained.

The ban on burned offerings was one of a cascade of government orders, from the draconian and sweeping to the picayune and puzzling, aimed at reducing air pollution and securing azure skies when government leaders meet in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which began Wednesday and runs through Tuesday.

Determined to offer visiting heads of government, including President Obama, a cleaner, emptier version of China's capital, where the air is often dirty and the streets always full, the authorities have ordered dozens of temporary changes that are upending people's lives and dampening commerce, affecting activities like marrying, driving, eating and mourning the dead.

Thousands of factories have closed and thousands more have been ordered to reduce emissions by 30 percent. Across a nearly California-sized area around Beijing, tens of millions of people in 17 major cities can drive only on alternate days, depending on whether their license plate ends in an odd or even number. Trucks carrying goods can enter Beijing only between midnight and 3 a.m., affecting deliveries of supplies like furniture and milk.

Gas stations have been barred from selling gas in canisters, and some have been shut entirely, though these measures may be aimed more to discourage the making of firebombs than to clear the air.

The government has also tried to shed some of the city's 21 million people, declaring an APEC Golden Week, a six-day vacation modeled on the Golden Week public officials get each year around National Day in early October. Public schools have been closed, work has been halted on construction sites, and public services such as issuing marriage licenses and passports have been suspended.

Newlyweds may not set off firecrackers, a common feature of a wedding celebration. Hospitals have closed nonessential departments and are turning away patients with nonemergency ailments.

One prestigious government institute told researchers to avoid "dangerous locations" like rivers, reservoirs, ponds or wells, and to avoid crowds, but if they could not, then to avoid causing stampedes by not pushing people.

Some residents are furious.

"All this is such an overreaction," said a Beijing resident who gave his name as Chen. "Ridiculous."

Shopkeepers are complaining.

"Business is down, since the day they cut the cars," said Tang Wen, who was behind the counter at his liquor and cigarettes store in Goldfish Lane. "If people can't get here, they can't buy."

At the landmark red-and-gold Buddhist Yonghe Temple, a monk said they were checking visitors to stop the burning of unauthorized incense. Worshipers can only burn incense sold by the temple, which is said to produce less smoke.

With trucks largely barred from entering Beijing, deliveries have dropped. "Usually I deliver about 100 parcels in a morning," said Liu Minghuan, a worker at Yunda, a delivery company. "But now I'm only delivering about 60 and it's getting fewer." He predicted a surge in deliveries would overwhelm the system after the APEC meetings. "But that's something for the bosses to worry about," he said.

A suburban milk company warned customers that it could not deliver any milk during the APEC event.

Peking Union Medical College Hospital, the country's top hospital, has restricted access, reportedly to keep the usually jampacked aisles clear for potentially ill dignitaries, though emergency services remain open.

A notice in the reception area, normally packed with people buying a $3 "see the doctor" ticket, said treatment was available half days from Friday through Sunday and not at all from Monday to Wednesday, when the leaders of more than 20 Asian and Pacific Rim countries will be in Beijing.

Outside, a scalper offered tickets for $49.

"This is a total pain," said a woman named Ms. Huang, who was trying to book a chest examination for her mother.

Some joked. A post circulating on the text service WeChat said APEC stood for "Air Pollution Eventually Controlled."

State news media has taken note of the inconveniences, publishing reports in which those affected seem to come around to accepting that it's for the greater good.

Xinhua, the state news agency, told the story of Qu Nan, a waitress at the APEC venue, who had to wean her baby early in order to go into the required work lockdown for several days before the meeting.

"I felt like I couldn't handle weaning my baby," she said. "On the evenings before, whenever I thought about it, I'd cry and say I couldn't bear to be parted from my baby."

But her husband comforted her and said, "Never mind."

"He really got it," Ms. Qu said. "I guess there are some personal problems that you just have to deal with yourself."

In Fangezhuang village, in the chilly mountains north of Beijing, Zhang Yongfu, 73, lamented that the ban on wood burning would hurt children and the elderly, who would not be able to fire up their kangs, the wood fire or coal briquette-warmed stone beds common in the countryside, Chinese Business View, a Shaanxi Province newspaper, reported.

But Mr. Zhang, too, saw the bigger picture, the newspaper noted.

"APEC is a big deal," he said. "We can all overcome our difficulties."

Despite these measures, the air was foul on Friday morning but had cleared somewhat by the time Secretary of State John Kerry landed in the afternoon.

Ultimately, the authorities will have to pray for a good strong wind, but nature was not cooperating.

Meteorologists expect air quality to deteriorate as northwest winds from Mongolia drop off. They projected that pollution would build over the weekend and continue during the week.

At the Babaoshan cemetery, a crestfallen Ms. Zhu left with her wreath intact. "I'll just have to burn it at home later," she said.