China Suffers a Smog-Filled New Year

Authorities attempt, unsuccessfully, to stop firecrackers being let off
By Lu Chen
Lu Chen
Lu Chen
January 30, 2014 Updated: January 31, 2014

Another round of heavy smog hit a large region of China over Chinese New Year, bringing a series of traffic problems across the country—a sorely unwelcome development given that millions of people are in the midst of traveling back to their homes to celebrate the holiday.

On Jan. 30, Chinese New Year’s Eve, China’s National Meteorological Center published yellow alerts for heavy smog in 11 provinces in central, eastern, and southern China.

In those regions, visibility was said to be only 500 meters. Elsewhere, red alerts were put up for hazardous levels of smog, where visibility was less than 50 meters. In Hubei Province, one of the smoggiest places in China recently, major highways were closed down, according to official reports.

Airlines have had to cancel and delay flights because of bad visibility. 

The National Meteorological Center estimates that medium and severe air pollution will persist until at least Feb. 6. 

Stuck in Traffic

Over 10,000 passengers were stranded at the Chongqing airport on Jan. 30 due to low visibility, and had to spend their Chinese New Year’s eve with strangers. The relationship between airport staff and passengers—strained at the best of times in China—got particularly tense, with a few instances of open conflict, according to Wenweipo, a newspaper in Hong Kong. 

Highway traffic is also busy during the Chinese New Year, and began particularly dangerous this year. A serious traffic accident was reported on the Shanghai-Kunming highway on Jan. 30, with 11 cars rear-ending one another due to bad visibility, according to official reports.  

A number of Chinese took to the Internet to complain about the conditions. “The only timely form of transportation is the subway,” remarked netizen Janam-lee on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China.  

No Firecrackers

Given the already highly polluted air, the authorities have attempted to curtail the letting off of firecrackers—lest it make matters worse.

“According to an analysis of the influence of firecrackers to the air in past years, firecrackers have a great impact on air quality,” said a spokesperson at the Ministry of Environmental Protection to the Chinese press.  

Official media channels had previously attempted to get the word out that “no firecrackers” was “this year’s trend” for celebrating the New Year.

Such announcements were made on television, over the radio, online, and even in text messages. 

The Beijing Administration of Work Safety announced that firework sales must cease if there was a high smog alert. 

The exhortations did not deter millions of Chinese however, given that letting off firecrackers and firecrackers is a New Year’s tradition widely enjoyed. At midnight on Jan. 30, just as the New Year was arriving, the sounds of crackers could be heard across Chinese cities. 

“Seriously, stop the firecrackers,” said the Nanjing Propaganda Department on its Weibo account. “Look at the sky outside… There’s already yellow smog alert.” 

Lu Chen
Lu Chen