Parts of China have been experiencing smog so thick that highways and businesses have been shut down, and dozens of flights have been canceled. Amid dangerously, unhealthy air quality levels, people in Beijing and elsewhere in the country have tried to go about their daily routines. The Associated Press reported 460 million people were affected by a “red alert” issued by the government last week. By the calculations of Greenpeace East Asia, the red alert affects 460 million people, with about 200 million people living in areas where the air was polluted more than 10 times above the guideline set by the World Health Organization. Schools decided to cancel classes on Monday because of the red alert. But in the town of Linqi, one school decided not to cancel its exams, and at least 400 children sat outside amid the heavy smog. Taking exams outside is not especially unusual in China, but one resident, angry that the testing went on in the smog, took photographs that found a lot of attention online.
Smog is not uncommon in China, especially in the winter. In December 2015, the government declared its first “red alert” in Beijing, part of a new emergency plan for air pollution. At the time, residents complained of the inconvenience such an alert brought as schools, highways and some factories were shut down. Air quality in Beijing and elsewhere in China has been deemed unsafe for years. In 2013, Edward Wong, a New York Times correspondent, detailed the health risks he, his wife and their young daughter faced by living in a “toxic country.” He said, “I want my daughter to grow up appreciating the outdoors — sunsets and birdcalls and the smell of grass or the shape of clouds. That will be impossible if we live for many more years in Beijing. Even with my adult-size lungs, I limit my time outdoors.”
This month, China faced a debate over smog and the pollution that contributes to it. The government was poised to classify unhealthy air as a “natural disaster.” Many residents and newspapers were wary of the move, saying it would let the government off the hook. The Beijing News said: “Human activity is the root of the problem, by releasing large amounts of pollution. The root of smog is pollution. There are essential differences to natural disasters.” China is hoping for the smog to clear up by the end of this week.