From Tue Jan 11 07:15:00 2000
Date: Sat, 8 Jan 2000 15:43:11 -0600 (CST)
From: EcoNet * IGC * APC <>
Subject: Beijing Launches Massive Clean Air Clean-Up Campaign
Article: 86313
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

/* Written 8:03 PM Jan 3, 2000 by in ips.english */
/* ---------- ENVIRONMENT-CHINA: Beijing Gasps for Clean Air ---------- */

Beijing Gasps for Clean Air

By Antoaneta Bezlova, IPS, 3 January 2000

BEIJING, Jan 3 (IPS)—Smoggy, congested Beijing is launching a massive clean-up campaign designed to turn itself from a choking, industrial wasteland into an international metropolis of consumption and culture.

Beijing mandarins are planning to push more than 700 state- owned companies out of the city proper over the next three to five years.

Although packaged as a millennium project, the cleanup is designed to bring Beijing closer to what it was before the communists took over China—a city dedicated to cultural delights, full of quaint shops, theatres, tea houses and imperial gardens.

After 50 years of mismanagement, now the Communist Party is trying to restore the previous glory of Beijing, but it is too late, asserts Professor Liang Congjie, head of China's first environmental NGO Friends of Nature. There is no remedy for the damage.

A city of lingering splendor was how British writer John Blofeld saw Beijing in the late 1930s. Arriving in 1934, he was one of the last westerners to record the city's breathtaking greatness before the communists pulled down its castellated walls—a world of magnificent palaces and temples, of lotus-covered lakes and lush pleasure gardens, of bustling bazaars and serene courtyards.

Clear blue skies crowned this imperial grandeur then. Today, Beijing is shrouded in such a thick smog of soot and fumes that blot out the blue from its residents' view. Under a sky of leaden gray, the green of the gardens has become invisible, devoured by Beijing's new developers.

The air in the Chinese capital is one of the dirtiest in the world, with the level of pollutants continually exceeding standards by the World Health Organisation. In the winter, when the city's consumption of coal peaks, Beijing residents cough from congested lungs and rub their smarting eyes.

It took Chinese emperors centuries to build their fabulous capital, but only a decade for the communists to obliterate its excellence.

Before the communist victory in 1949, the capital did not produce even pencils yet 10 years later, there were 700 factories and 2,000 blast furnaces belching soot in the air.

It was Chairman Mao Zedong who brought the factories to the city in the late 1950s.

He decided that the capital of the People's Republic of China needed to be an industrial stronghold as well as a political and cultural centre. Developing heavy industry was his formula for China to catch up with imperialist giants like United States and Britain.

Although loathe to admit failures of any kind, Beijing's rulers today recognise what disastrous consequences this decision has had for the city.

Beijing's air is toxic, its streets are crowded and the capital is running chronically short of energy, Li Yanling, head of the Beijing Economic Commission, told a meeting of city leaders with experts in late October.

Now the authorities have decided that the main culprits for the environmental crisis—the city's more than 1,000 factories, have to go.

These factories cloak Beijing air with 1585 tonnes of dust and 4,000 tonnes of sulfur dioxide every year. They also dump 5, 860 tons of waste water into its rivers and reservoirs, half of which are polluted.

The decision to move those factories beyond the Fourth Ring Road of the city is our last chance, Li Yanling was quoted as telling the meeting by the 'China Economic Times'.

Since 1985, when it first set its eyes on moving the heavy polluters out of the city, the government has pushed out only 114. Though pollution levels within the city have slightly improved, many of those companies brought their antiquated equipment along and continue to spew pollutants in the suburbs.

The point now is not merely to relocate those heavy polluters, but to make them undergo restructuring that will clear the production and improve their profitability, says Zhu Jiaguang, senior planner at the Beijing Institute of City Planning and Design.

Says Vaclav Smil, a professor at Canada's Manitoba University, who studies China's pollution: Given the utter unprofitability of most of those Stalinist enterprises, they will kill two proverbial flies by gradually easing classical smog (particulates and sulfur dioxide) problem arising from coal.

Yet he deems the big clean-up just a marginal change for Beijing's notorious levels of air pollution. Moving the factories out is hardly going to make a difference in the summer, when car exhaust causes more than 60 percent of air pollution.

Twenty years ago it would have made a big difference, now the nature of the beast has changed to predominantly photochemical smog air pollution (nitrogen oxides, CO and volatile organics), so it is a welcome decision but not a decisive one, explains Smil.

The government has been careful not to publicise unnecessarily its project, since its outcome delivers an unapologetic repudiation of Chairman Mao's policies.

Professor Liang from the Friends of Nature recalls how in the 1950s, his father, one of China's most renowned architects, US-educated Liang Sicheng, dared to oppose Mao's urban vision of Beijing.

He told him Beijing should preserve the city walls and develop industries only outside the city. But Mao didn't want to listen. My father also told him Beijing should not go for huge works like the Capital Iron and Steel. No other capital in the world has such a big steel corporation, but Mao didn't want to listen either.

The elder Liang paid a hefty price for his boldness. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) set in motion by Mao to destroy all remnants of China's traditional culture, Liang was accused of retrograde thinking and publicly denounced which led to his death in 1972.

Today, younger Liang believes the consequences of Mao's policies are irreversible. The city walls are gone. The core of the ancient city has been ruined by the encroachment of more than one thousand factories.

Beijing is like a man without legs and arms, Liang says. You try to put some plasters on it, but he is still a cripple.