xinhua english reports on beijing’s pollution, using usa terminology

As I was writing my post yesterday, Xinhua English published a short piece on this week’s heavy pollution episode in Beijing:

BEIJING – Heavy fog with a visibility of around 1 km persisted in Beijing for a third day Wednesday, keeping the city’s air pollution at the most hazardous levels measured this year.

The municipal environment bureau’s readings indicated the heaviest air pollution on Wednesday was monitored in Daxing district in southern Beijing, where the air quality index (AQI) reading hit 362.

The AQI ranges from 0 to 500: the higher the number, the more severe the pollution. Readings over 300 are considered hazardous.

The average AQI reading for the city Wednesday was 207, down from 270 on Tuesday and 333 on Monday.

The highest AQI reading over the last three days – at 394 – was recorded in the eastern Chaoyang and northern Haidian districts on Tuesday.

The Beijing Meteorological Bureau said a weak cold front would hit the city on late Wednesday to dispel haze. Winds, however, were unlikely to completely clear the air pollution on Thursday.

The article seems fairly straightforward, though there is one very surprising detail: the terminology they are using to describe the air pollution is the United States’ terminology, not China’s. Two differences:

1) China’s own index is called the Air Pollution Index (API), not the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is what is used in the US.

2) China’s system does not use the word “hazardous” to describe index levels above 300. “Hazardous” above 300 is the US’ terminology. China’s system simply calls this “heavy pollution” (重污染), without a value judgment of the danger. (“Hazardous” might be better translated as 危险 or 有害.)

Does this shift signal the impact of the US’ Embassy’s BeijingAir Twitter feed on guiding air quality discussion, at least among the English-speaking population in Beijing, or am I reading too much into it? (I asked similar questions in two posts in 2009 when the English-language China Daily openly questioned China’s system in light of the Embassy’s data.)

Regardless, Chinese language sources appear to be uniformly using the Chinese terminology. This Xinhua article in Chinese even includes a glossary, though it carefully avoids any judgments like “hazardous,” preferring the less direct “heavy pollution” (重度污染). The article does note, though, for index levels above 300, “elderly people and those with heart or lung diseases should remain indoors and reduce physical activity…and…the general population should avoid outdoor activity.” (老年人和心脏病、肺病患者应停留在室内,并减少体力活动…一般人群应避免户外活动。)

3 Responses to “xinhua english reports on beijing’s pollution, using usa terminology”

  1. Chinaren says:

    Nice blog! Been looking for a good air pollution site for here.

    It’s blue sky’s again today it seems though, finally. Maybe the three weeks worth of fireworks contributes something to the pollution too?

  2. Erica says:

    Hi Vance (?),

    this is a very interesting article. API in Chinese is “空气污染指数”, I have added it to my website’s environmental dictionary, hope you don’t mind (of course, with attribution. See letter A of the dictionary!).

    I have also subscribed to the BeijingAir Tiwtter feed!

    Also, there is a typo for “重物染”, hope you don’t mind pointing out (as it’s just a typo, of course!!)

    Thanks for the great work and keep it up!


  3. Vance says:


    Thanks for pointing out the typo. I’ve corrected it in the post!


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