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Tiananmen Square and Gate of Heavenly Peace, Beijing | by CalUrbanist
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Tiananmen Square and Gate of Heavenly Peace, Beijing

Welcome to Beijing! Unfortunately, on the day we arrived the ancient capital was not experiencing a "blue sky day," as the Chinese government euphemistically describes days with only moderately harmful air pollution. On this day, the Air Quality Index as measured by the U.S. Embassy (which takes and publishes PM 2.5 readings; the Chinese government continues to use and publicize the old PM 10 standard) was 318 -- "hazardous," or more than three times what's considered unsafe in the U.S. One recent study found that breathing Beijing air can take five years off of one's life, and on one recent day the AQI literally went off the scale -- above 500 -- a situation an Embassy spokesman described as "crazy bad." The Chinese government, having made some temporary progress around the time of the Olympics by relocating factories and restricting driving before continued growth overwhelmed that progress, has responded to growing public concern with some concern of its own, but the future remains unclear. (Note: We did not, fortunately, experience one of the epic duststorms that periodically blow across from the ever-expanding Gobi Desert.)

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Taken in April 2012