Tuesday, November 12th 2019

Shocking pollution in China

One of the shocking impressions in China is pollution. I expected it to be bad, but it exceeded all my expectations. I don’t know the pollution statistics. But living in Prague i don’t really feel the effects of climate change or global warming. I remember how it feels in Kiev, especially during summer. But what i experienced in China was much worse. If you have never been to China, especially North-East, you probably cannot imagine what real pollution is.

First encounter for us was in Beijing. The air was milky and foggy during the whole day. It was very unusual considering that in other places you would see blue sky. Normally you would not be able to look straight at the sun without good sun glasses. Well it is possible in Beijing on a regular day.

How you see sun through polluted air in Beijing

How you see sun in Beijing on a regular day

Coal is the main source of air pollution in China. China gets 80 percent of electricity and 70 percent its total energy from coal, a lot of which is polluting high-sulphur coal. More than 6 million tons of coal are burned everyday. Coal is mostly used to power factories and get electricity but many people still heat their homes and cook meals using coal.

Pollution has extreme effects on health

Coal is still used for heating in many homes

Growing amount of cars, heavy traffic and low-grade gasoline contribute a lot to the air pollution problem, especially in big Chinese cities. According to the World Bank 16 of the world’s 20 cities with the worst air pollution are in China.

We had a stopover in Jinan going from Shanghai to Beijing. In our initial plan Jinan was one of the place where we planned to spend several days. Now I am very happy it we changed our plan. We spent about 4-5 hours. Everything looked very dusty and not really clean. The air was like a smoke screen. We could not really see far. In general many places looked and felt like that – smoggy, dusty and filthy.

Shocking air pollution in Jinan, Shandong province

Shocking pollution in Jinan, Shandong province

After a while of walking in Jinan I started feeling that my legs were numb. Strange feeling in the whole body. Unusual dizziness….I thought I had food poisoning because we had eaten some grilled lamb. The lamb actually was very tasty compared to many other things I ate in China.

Some time later I realized that I got “high on pollution”. It was just a simple poisoning from the air. And i guess it is not the most polluted place in China. I am sure if you google “pollution in China” you will see even more terrible pictures. But seeing pictures is one thing. Being there, seeing that with your own eyes and actually feeling its effects is completely different.

Air pollution in Jinan, Shandong provence

Pollution in Jinan, Shandong province

Only 1 percent of the China’s 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe by European Union standards according to a World Bank study. Air pollution is particularly bad in the rust belt areas of northeastern China. A study done by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the amount of airborne suspended particulates in northern China is almost 20 times what WHO considers a safe level.

Effects of pollution in China

Pollution in China

China is the main producer of airborne sulfur dioxide in the world. It manily comes from coal burning. In 2005 Chinese factories and power plants produced 25.5 million tons of sulphur dioxide. This chemical causes acid ran. This figure is 27% higher compared to 2000. Coal-burning power stations & coking plants are the main sulfur dioxide producers.

On the pictures below you can actually see the difference between a non-polluted day and a polluted day in Nanjing.Nanjing is located very close to Shanghai. It is probably my most favorite visited place in China. Unfortunately it can still be very polluted.

Cloudy day in Nanjing

Cloudy but clear day in Nanjing

Effects of pollution in Nanjing

Polluted day in Nanjing

I feel very sorry for people who have to live in such terrible conditions. The extreme pollution has terrible effects on human health. I have never seen so many people with some physically obvious abnormalities. I am sure that all of them are caused by heavy chemical pollution which is everywhere. We have not visited the most polluted areas but you can easily google to see pictures of them to geet an idea.

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11 Comments on “Shocking pollution in China”

  1. Thank you for the post, it is really helpful as I am planning myself as well a trip to china. It helps me a lot with my planning and just to have a “real” image of what I will experience there…you know, guide books don’t really teach you the real issues of a country. My trip will be in May. What are your recommendations for China..? where would it be the best places to go ? and what shall I avoid ? Thank you.

    1. Hi Debbie, I will write more about transportation and food in next posts within a week. Regarding where to go – really depends where you are entering China and how much time you have. can you specify that and I will give my opinion. I will write what to avoid as well.

      1. Hi Alex and thank you for the reply. I am planning my trip for May, just to have some better weather. I am flying to Shanghai and am staying 2 weeks. Am not sure yet which direction should I head , north or south and if I have enough time for trips to HK or BJ (don’t want to rush).
        My main concerns are :
        Prices ? (is it expensive or cheap)
        Transport ? Do i need advanced purchase ? How about public transport ?
        Accommodation ?

        Thank you.

        1. Hi Debbie,
          Two weeks are not that much. You definitely have time to visit Beijing, but you will need to take a fast train. I would recommend you to stop in Nanjing. It is my favorite place out of those visited in China. I am not sure you can visit HK, unless you fly there and back. But then you will have to have a visa with 2 entries. People say Quingdao is an interesting place, but we did not go there. Do not recommend you to visit Jinan. Extremely polluted.
          Prices are not high, but higher than in SEA. Taxi can be cheap, if you know how much it should cost and can explain where to go.
          Trains are not expensive, for overnight hard sleeper 8 hours, you will pay 17EUR. Approximately the same you will pay for a fast train, 3 hours from Shanghai to Nanjing, for example. Tickets are better to buy several days in advance. And you should always know where you are going, number of a train, prices. You can check that in tickets machines on any train station. You can also buy tickets in special railway ticket agencies.
          Accommodation is not expensive either. You can find deals for 10-15EUR/night.
          Food is very affordable, but depends what you prefer. Food and night markets are great places to get food.

          1. Thank you for your reply, It helps me a lot for planning my trip.

  2. That is horrible and shocking. I did not know it is that bad!

    1. Yeah, i did not expect that to be quite bad everywhere we went. Especially around Beijing.

  3. this is so bad. i rejected a job offer to Beijing recently. Pollutions was one of the reasons. Would not be able to live like that.

    1. I cannot imagine how people live in such conditions all the time. I would not be able either. But I am afraid many of them have nowhere to move.

  4. Alex,

    Thank you for the information – it is hard to find stuff on Jinan. I have a question for you. If you could live in 1 city for 3 months would it be Kaifeng or Jinan? I have the exact same position, I just need to pick the city. Have you visited Kaifeng? Is the pollution just as bad there? I am 30-years-old and have so many questions about safety, the night life, expenses, etc? I am basically starting from scratch here…ANY info would be appreciated!



    1. Hi Jon,
      unfortunately in both cities we spend just a day on transit. Kaifeng seems to have less pollution. but it might be that on that day it was less, and in Jinan on our visit it was higher. We saw that other cities when one day it is almost clear sky, and then next is just grey “curtain”.
      I think Jinan is bigger and more industrial, so expenses could be higher, but cannot tell for sure. unfortunately have no much info about living there.
      China seemed to me safe, i have not come across any aggressiveness from people, more strange interest where they see no people, and men were staring at Mara.
      hope it will help.

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