From email@example.com Tue Jan 11 07:15:00 2000
Date: Sat, 8 Jan 2000 15:43:11 -0600 (CST)
From: EcoNet * IGC * APC <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Beijing Launches Massive Clean Air Clean-Up Campaign
/* Written 8:03 PM Jan 3, 2000 by email@example.com in ips.english */
ENVIRONMENT-CHINA: Beijing Gasps for Clean Air ---------- */
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
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
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
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.
try to put some plasters on it, but he is still a cripple.