December 5, 2021

Polluted China’s air

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Eerie photos that show just how polluted China’s air has become

Heavy smog surrounds these two riders in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province.China Stringer Network/Reuters

Although no one knows the exact amount of carbon that China emits each year, it’s a well-known fact that the country has some of the most polluted air in the world. This Wednesday, Beijing went under a “red alert” for smog — the highest of four tiers — and a “yellow alert” for fog.

In December, pollution so bad that some called it the “airpocalypse” caused a halt of everyday life in Beijing. Cars couldn’t be driven, planes were grounded, and schools had to be temporarily closed.

But Beijing isn’t the only city affected. The cold winter months often cause air pollution levels to rise throughout much of China, as more homes are burning coal for heat.

Below, see 29 photos that show China among the smog.

Jack Sommer and Cyrus Engineer contributed reporting to a previous version of this article.


An aerial photo taken during a polluted day in Shenyang, Liaoning province.

Jacky Chen/Reuters

Two people ride during heavy smog in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province.

China Stringer Network/Reuters

A tree sits between two buildings that tower through the thick smog in Jinan, Shandong province.

China Stringer Network/Reuters

A view from the Jin Mao Tower in the Puxi district of Shanghai amid heavy smog.

Aly Song/Reuters

A man cooks in open air during a “red alert” day in Hebei province.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Smog looms over the city of Tianjin, in northeastern China.

China Stringer Network/Reuters

Bike riders wear masks to help filter the air they breath.

China Stringer Network/Reuters

This woman and a young boy also choose to wear masks while in Jillin.


Masks can help filter out a particulate matter called PM 2.5, which can get stuck in the lungs and lead to conditions like asthma and chronic lung disease.

China Daily China Daily Information Corp – CDIC/Reuters

Source: Business Insider

Some take more drastic measures to guard themselves from the pollution, such as this man wearing a full-on respirator in Beijing.

Andy Wong/AP Photo

Everyday work doesn’t stop in the smog — here, workers clean the exterior of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

Aly Song/Reuters

People are seen on the street in smog during a polluted day in Shenyang, Liaoning province.

China Stringer Network/Reuters

A woman wears a mask on a polluted evening.


Boats pass along the Huangpu River next to the financial area of the Pudong New District amid heavy smog in Shanghai, China.


Residential buildings are shrouded in a haze in Shenyang.


The lights of downtown Shanghai appear dim due to the haze.


In Harbin, a traffic policeman has to help navigate commuters since they can barely make out the headlights in front of them.

REUTERS/China Daily

The smoke billowing from a nearby steel plant doesn’t seem to bother this girl as she reads on her balcony in Quzhou.


A statue of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong stands tall in Shenyang.


Despite the poor air quality, cleaners work along the median of a main road in central Beijing.


People walk on the Bund, a waterfront area near the financial district of Pudong in downtown Shanghai.


A woman strolls through polluted air in front of a construction site of a residential compound in Wuhan.

Smoke from a refinery’s chimneys and cooling towers rises above the skyline in Ningbo.

REUTERS/China Daily

A woman walks across the street during a particularly smoggy day in Changchun.


Citizens walk across a bridge, their line of sight extremely short due to the thick smog.


A woman makes her way through traffic in Changchun.

REUTERS/China Daily

High-rise buildings are shrouded in heavy haze all the way up to the top of the Qingdao development zone.


The tops of these residential compounds in Wujiaqu just barely make it above the smog.


An electronic screen’s brightness shines through this smog in Shenyang.


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