In recent years, the effects of air pollution in China become appalling, especially in the areas around the Chinese capital. Former Chinese TV presenter Chai Jing released a “self-funded” smog documentary “Under the Dome”, exploring the cause and effects of air pollution in China, which has attracted a large number of viewers.

However, public opinions in China over her documentary are sharply divided.

Supporters: She’s a Warrior Standing up to the State Corporation

A video clip from Chai Jing’s smog documentary Under the Dome
A video clip from Chai Jing’s smog documentary Under the Dome

The supporters praised her courage to stand up to the dominant force in China represented by the Premier’s teacher and mentor Professor Li Yining who famously said China will “have to go through the heavy industry stage, during which the pollution to the environment is unavoidable, but so what, we’ve gained the economic benefits.”

Critics: She’s a Manipulator of Key Data

But her critics pointed out that many key data in her document are wrong, either because she lacks scientific training or she is deliberately misleading- see details on (in Chinese)

Critics: She’s a Mouthpiece of the Foreign Multinationals

There are also some who appreciate her effort to bring up the issue to the public agenda yet doubt her motivation, particularly when she is the film advocates to replace coal with oil and shell gas and implies that the only solution to the pollution is through privatization of the state-owned oil company and to provide easier access for foreign multinationals into China’s key resource industry.

Critics: She Is Not What She Claims to Be

Others also urge the public to pay attention to the following factors: the calls to boycott shell gas projects are mounting in the US over contamination concerns; Chai Jing’s documentary is not really “self-funded” as she claimed but financially helped by some prominent US-based organisations, including America’s oil giants; and the film was released just before the opening of China’s two national “Conferences” that is about to decide China’s new direction of economic development.

Critics: She Is Helping Covering up China’s Most Serious Pollution Problems

This kind of criticism is mainly from China’s scientific and environmental protection sectors.

Evidence shows that China’s biggest pollution is not from air but from water and soil which almost affect everyone living in China, not just some big cities.

Research conducted between November 2014 and January 2015 on water quality in 29 Chinese cities found 48% of tap water tested is below the minimum safety standards for being used as drinking water.

By the way, in many Chinese cities, the water supply has already been privatized. The biggest water contamination scandal exposed so far is from Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, where the water supply has been contracted to a French company. People are questioning what energy privatization will lead to.

In fact, in the recent few years, China’s air pollution has already been at the very centre of the public debate which led to the Chinese government deciding in 2013 to invest US$277 billion into programs designed to clean up the air in Beijing and other northern cities.

But that is considered by some environmental experts as a very unwise decision since it leaves more urgent and severe pollution problems in water and soil becoming harder to resolve due to the misdirection of precious financial resources.

A Map of China’s Air Pollution

The figures released by China’s Environmental Protection Ministry show, the top 10 most polluted cities are found all located in northern China, of which 8 are near Beijing, while the top 10 metropolitans with best air quality are all in southern China regions.

China's air pollution map
Red: the cities with the worst air quality; Blue: the cities with the best air quality

10 Chinese Cities with the Worst Air

Beijing, China's heavily polluted capital
Beijing, China’s heavily polluted capital

1, Baoding (in Hebei province)

2, Xingtai (in Hebei province, a city experienced a massive earthquake with more than 8,000 casualties in 1966)

3, Shijiazhuang (the capital city of Hebei province)

4, Tangshan (in Hebei province, a city rebuilt after a deadly earthquake with at least 240,000 casualties in 1976)

5, Handan (a city in Hebei province)

6, Hengshui (a city in Hebei province)

7, Jinan (the capital city of Shandong province)

8, Langfang (a city in Hebei province, located between Beijing and Tianjin)

9, Zhengzhou (the capital city of Henan province)

9, Tianjin (near Beijing)

10 Chinese Cities with the Best Air Quality:

1, Haikou (the capital city of Hainan Island province)

2, Zhoushan (a city in Zhejiang province, near Shanghai)

3, Lhasa (the capital city of Tibet province)

4, Shenzhen (a city in Guangdong province)

5, Zhuhai (a city in Guangdong province)

6, Huizhou (a city in Guangdong province)

7, Fuzhou (a city in Fujian province)

8, Kunming (the capital city of Yunnan province)

9, Zhongshan (a city in Guangdong province)

Sources & References:
· Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection,

One of the Biggest Contributors to Air Pollution

The U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry once said:

“When you have bombs going off and you have damage to septic tanks or to power centers etcetera, you have an enormous release of greenhouse gas.”

If Kerry really meant it, he should save his China trip and talk to his president at home in the White House.

Edited on 19 July 2023:

9 thought on “Effects of Air Pollution in China”
  1. You’re quite frank about the root of China’s pollution problems.
    We’ve been misled for too long.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow is it what really happened with Chai Lin’s film? By the way, I enjoy read your articles, saved to favorites!

  3. I’m amazed how the true story could be so different from what appears. Yours is the nail on the head.

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