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Millions of Beijing residents are going online to vent their anger over thick smog that has blanketed the Chinese capital in recent days.
Conditions in the already polluted city have become so bad that hundreds of flights in and out of Beijing’s main airport — the world’s second busiest — have been cancelled. Health fears have been raised with the US embassy ranking Beijing’s air as “very unhealthy”.
China’s popular microblogging platforms, called weibos, have been at the forefront of the complaints.
Sina Weibo, which has well over 200-million users, recorded some 4.4-million comments relating to pollution in 24 hours.
One user expressed frustration at the fact that it had taken him 24 hours to get to Beijing from the southern city of Shenzhen. “I’m exhausted. All of this was because of the thick smog,” wrote Hu Yueyue.
“Today is another fine smog day in Beijing. I wore a mask this morning. I don’t know how long I can live if I breathe this hazardous air all day long,” posted another.
China’s 500-million strong online population has taken to the weibos in a big way since the 2009 banning of Twitter. Authorities in the country recently announced that about 300-million people had accounts on the various weibo platforms.
Such vast user numbers have made it increasingly difficult for authorities to retain the tight online controls they had become used to.
In recent months, people have used weibos to express their dissatisfaction at government scandals, corruption and the handling of disasters.
The smog in Beijing is no exception. “There are always huge differences between the public data and weather broadcasts and the feelings of people,” said one weibo user under the name “Xuxuaimingxuan”.
“Sometimes, I suspect that what we’re breathing isn’t air, but politics.”
The post refers, at least in part, to the fact that the Chinese government bases its air quality figures on measurements of larger particles, which often give a less severe assessment of air quality.
There is, however, one winner emerging from the smog.
China’s biggest online retailer Taobao.com recently sold 30 000 face masks on a day in which the air in Beijing was described by the US embassy as “hazardous”.
Levels of air pollution in China are coming increasingly under the spotlight. Fuelled by a booming economy, the country recently became the world’s top producer of carbon dioxide.