Chinese Are Seeing Red Over Government's ‘APEC Blue’ Anti-Pollution Efforts

Two photos of the same street in Beijing, one taken on a clear, sunny day and the other on a smoggy day. Photo uploaded to Flickr by user Locksley McPherson Jnr on October 26, 2014. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two photos of the same street in Beijing, one taken on a clear, sunny day and the other on a smoggy day. Photo uploaded to Flickr by user Locksley McPherson Jnr on October 26, 2014. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Chinese authorities have rolled out a special set of anti-pollution regulations — from restricting the use of cars to banning the funeral tradition of burning a dead loved one's clothing — in order to put Beijing's best face forward as it hosts officials from around the world at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).

Specifically, officials are worried about the color of the sky overhead. Smog has often blanketed Beijing and other parts of China in recent years, obscuring the sun and sky during the day. 

The sky was really blue for the opening of APEC on November 5, but mainland Chinese social media users, who have dubbed the effort “APEC blue” (APEC 藍 in Chinese), were not so excited about the color. 

Silent snow (@靜靜的雪) explained the meaning of “APEC blue” on Twitter-like Sina Weibo:


APEC Blue. An APEC meeting has blown up the Web: Regulations are imposed to restrict people from moving around and having access to heating, medical care and even funerals. It has shocked the foreign world. It is just a regular meeting, but we have to close our schools and government services. Even the dead have to wait for a proper burial. Such disrespect for human rights, of course, would attract criticism. The sky is really blue, but it isn't for us! How sad…

To prepare for the APEC meeting, thousands of factories in nearby provinces have been ordered to shut down. Construction projects have been suspended. Tens of thousands of civil servants, teachers and workers at state-owned enterprises have been given a week-long holiday to stay at home. The number of vehicles on the street has been cut in half by regulations permitting people to drive only an odd or even day, depending on the last digit of their license plate number.

All subway passengers have to go through airport-level security checks and a number of subway stations have been shut down to ease subway congestion.

The special traffic arrangement has hit delivery services hard, forcing them to suspend business. Dali_Yang posted a notice from a dairy company, which said their milk delivery service will be suspended for nine days because of the APEC meeting:

Since there is a long holiday, people can, of course, choose to rest at home. However, some may find their houses too cold to stay, given Beijing's cold winter days. The city's temperature has fallen to near 0 degrees Celsius at night. During the APEC meeting, people living within five kilometers of the venue are forbidden to burn coal for cooking and heating to reduce smoke emissions. The same rule applies to small businesses such as restaurants. Jeremy Goldkorn from DANWEI, a China observer blog, reported on Twitter:

While people are making sacrifices to make sure the sky be blue, the authorities were unwilling to give up APEC's welcoming fireworks show and its rehearsal. Jiang Han, a music editor, expressed his frustration on Weibo:


Within five kilometers of APEC's main venue, people are forbidden from burning coal and wood. Offering of clothing to the dead in Babaoshan is also forbidden. But last night, we could see different styles of fireworks staining the sky in reddish colors near the Olympic Bird's Nest building. It was the APEC welcoming rehearsal. The authorities can burn wherever they like and ordinary people can't even cook. We can't drive our cars and the subways have to skip many stations. People have to suffer for a meeting.

Criticism of “APEC blue” have flooded Chinese social media, but most negative comments have been scrubbed from the sites almost immediately. Alternatively, people have “expressed their support” sarcastically like Zhang Hanbing did on Weibo:


Support APEC! We will make sure we won't go to the market, won't cook, won't wash our clothes, won't warm up our houses, won't get sick, won't take the bus, won't take the subway, won't drive, won't leave our homes, won't go to work, won't go to sleep… if it is necessary, I volunteer to not breathing for 30 seconds.

Despite the restrictions, the APEC blue is unlikely to last long. The latest weather forecast predicts smog will likely to return in the next few days. Will Beijing be jealous of North Korea's forever “APEC blue” sky, like writer Choi Seongho said?:


The sky of North Korea is APEC blue everyday. It is so easy for others to get jealous.


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