Photos of China’s ‘Airpocalypse’ — where industrial smog makes the country a living hell for half a billion people

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Jason Lee/Reuters

While Americans embrace the crisp, cool air of the holiday season, on the other side of the globe, about a half billion people living in northern China face the “airpocalypse” – or smog season.

The thick, toxic air has caused flights to be canceled, classes to be suspended, and alerts to be issued by the government encouraging people to insulate themselves from air. Under a charcoal-tinted sky and toxic fumes, half a billion people can’t live or step outside without wearing masks.

It’s a living hell.

As someone who grew up in China for 18 years, the first time I saw blue sky and white clouds was four years ago when I first arrived in Boston for college. I’m not even from the North, where the worst of the smog all but blocks out the sun.

Even having grown up in China, I’m still shocked seeing these pictures – pictures of people trying to live their life under threat, pictures showing what a country has to sacrifice in order to be the world’s second-largest economy.

By the way, if you feel the pictures below are not clear or bright enough, it’s not because of the picture quality – it’s the smog.


China’s smog problem has reached “red alert,” the highest level in China’s four-tiered pollution warning system.

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China Stringer Network/Reuters

Source: The Guardian


A paramilitary police officer wearing a mask stands guard in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong during smog at Tiananmen Square. Only the silhouettes of people standing further away could be been in the photos.

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Jason Lee/Reuters

But not even heavy smog can stop Chinese people from watching the daily flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square even during a “red alert.”

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Jason Lee/Reuters

Kids growing up here will have to deal with the longterm effects of inhaling hazardous pollution.

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Jason Lee/Reuters

The street in Shandong Province is no different than a scene from the horror movie “Silent Hill.”

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China Stringer Network/Reuters

It is painful to live under toxic fumes— the smog has affected 460 million people, a population equivalent to those of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, combined.

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Reuters

Source: The Guardian


A wall depicts Beijing’s impressive skyscrapers under a vivid blue sky, but the reality is a pale comparison. Scientists found the sulfate levels in Beijing’s air is approaching those produced by volcanic eruptions.

Source: South China Morning Post


But life must go on. Here a mother and son bond outdoors despite a heavily polluted day in Beijing.


Not all children are so lucky. Here parents take their children to hospitals on the second straight day of a pollution alert across the country’s north.


Thousands of young Chinese across the country dream of living in Beijing, just as many Americans dream of making it to New York City. But in the China’s capital they find themselves plagued by toxic air. One said, “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live.”

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Jason Lee/Reuters

Source: The Guardian


People have to wear respiratory protection mask everywhere, even indoors.

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Jason Lee/Reuters

And people still need to exercise, even if it risks their lung health.

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Lyu Wenzheng/VCG via Getty Images

This man dons a full-on respirator, much more heavy duty than the surgical masks more broadly worn throughout Asia.


These school children have to exercise indoors, but many of the schools suspended classes.

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China Stringer Network/Reuters

But on special occasions, the government can get rid of the charcoal-tinted sky. The air was clear when APEC summit was held in Beijing in 2014 — a traffic ban of odd-even license plates was carried out for a better air quality.

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VCG/VCG via Getty Images

But after APEC, when the world’s attention has turned away, traffic resumed and the smog came back.

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Jason Lee/Reuters

Beijing welcomed US President Barack Obama and his Air Force One with a slightly blue sky during the 2014 APEC summit.


But Air China passenger planes were shrouded by heavy smog this week. Beijing Capital international airport cancelled hundreds of flights due to low visibility.

Source: South China Morning Post


The biggest factor causing China’s toxic smog: the burning of coal. As families consume coal for heating, the air quality deteriorates every winter.

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China Stringer Network/Reuters

Source: South China Morning Post