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Chinese Flee Deadly Smog


Another stiff environmental challenge for China: air pollution in its biggest cities is chasing away the country’s best and brightest. After all, why would someone want to live in a city like Beijing, that routinely sees air pollution go literally off the charts?

The Financial Times reports that the better-off have been plotting their escape on China’s social network, Weibo:

One user wrote: “One of my close colleagues has finally escaped Beijing. With expensive housing, expensive goods, terrible pollution and expensive healthcare, he decided to run off to a city where the pressure will be much less – London.”

Air pollution is estimated to kill 700,000 people per year. In 2007 the World Bank reported that pollution costs the country 5.8 percent of its GDP annually in material damages, healthcare costs, and premature deaths. While this has been a relatively well-covered phenomenon in the West, China’s citizens are starting to wake up to the true gravity of the situation.

And the unelected leadership is responding. China’s new Prime Minister Li Keqiang, swore to make cleaning up the environment a priority for the party:

“We will punish offenders without mercy and enforce the law with an iron fist,” he said. “It’s no good to be poor in a beautiful environment but nor is it any good to be well-off and left with the consequences of environmental degradation.”

China cannot afford to lose its most talented people as it strives to transition from a manufacturing to an information economy. Meeting this challenge could easily be the greatest test that China’s leadership faces in the coming few years.

[Man wears a mask in Beijing, courtesy of Getty.]

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  • foobarista

    My wife’s friend in Shanghai is currently in an intense debate in her family: she wants to move to Vancouver, while her husband wants to stay in Shanghai. They’ve made enough money in the Shanghai real-estate market to retire anywhere on Earth (and like most affluent Chinese have property overseas and some sort of overseas residence; in their case, Canadian greencards) but as a proper son, her husband wants to stay in Shanghai while his parents are alive. Her reason for wanting to leave is the bad environment, both in terms of air quality and food reliability; the recent giant pig death seriously creeped her out, particularly the government’s non-explanation of why it happened and what was done with the dead pigs. From her perspective, living in Shanghai nowadays is walking in a minefield of random bad events ultimately rooted in corruption, and wealth can’t completely buy one’s way past it.

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