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Slideshow: air pollution in Beijing

As the Olympics approach, athletes have raised concerns about the Chinese capital’s smoggy skies. A series of haunting pictures by Beijing-based photographer Sean Gallagher illustrates the problem.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: These pictures were all taken by Sean Gallagher, a British photographer based in China, between June 26 and July 2, 2008. All of the photographs were taken in Beijing, and most of them depict vehicles that have been left or abandoned under the raised ring roads in the city centre. In this series, the photographer has not set out to show ordinary cars in the Chinese capital; he uses abandoned vehicles as static objects, which illustrate the quantity of dust and sand that accumulates in the city's air. Some of this dust is from naturally occurring sandstorms, but – as the photographer points out in his comment – much of it also comes from the booming construction industry.

Backgrounder: air pollution in China

Sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China. More than 500 million people live in Chinese urban areas including the capital, Beijing, where air pollution is damaging to human health.

“Extensive use of coal, the city’s location and the growing number of cars means the improvement in Beijing’s air quality is slow,” the Associated Press quoted Eric Falt, an official at the United Nations Environment Program, as saying last October. “Particularly worrying are the levels of small particulate matter… in the atmosphere which is severely harmful to public health.”

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Air Pollution Index (API) is a measurement of concentrations of chemicals and dust particles in the air. The WHO recommends an API measurement of 50 as its maximum safe daily level. May 2008 saw a daily API average of 131 in Beijing. May 27, 2008, saw the capital’s API peak at 463, over nine times the safe level.

As the Beijing Olympics approach, concerns are being raised about the quality of the air in the capital, particularly by athletes, some of whom have proposed wearing masks during the competition, training in other countries, or even pulling out of events.

Whatever happens at the Olympics, Beijing residents will continue to live with smoggy skies after the Games. According to the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning, the country’s air pollution caused over 400,000 premature deaths in 2003.


Sean Gallagher is a British photographer based in Beijing. His work focuses on environmental and social issues in Asia, with specific emphasis on China. More of his work can be seen at www.gallagher-photo.com

All text and images copyright © Sean Gallager Photography

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评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



When was that in the picture?

It's not normal in the summer of Beijing. It could be taken during sand storm sometime earlier. The air quality of Beijing has been improved greatly in the recent two years, anyone can see that.
Comment translated by Lijin Zeng

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


刘韶杰 [email protected]

The author is misleading.

These photos are obviously misleading. Most of the vehicles in the photos are the ones deserted in the open air for years. Of course the vehicles are coated with grime; it’s because they haven’t been touched in so many years. We cannot say that the air here in Beijing is great. However, we don't have conditions that bad. Having been living in Beijing for nearly ten years myself, I have only seen conditions like that a few times. We do expect the foreign reporters to follow closely on issues in China, but we also hope that they can apply a fair perspective without any misleading information. Shaojie Liu [email protected] (This comment is translated by Zheng Shen)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The date and location should be identified

The set of photos were supposed to be taken during last spring when sandstorms were most ferocious on record. This year Beijing has had many smoggy days, but fewer sandstorms.
(Comment translated by Bin Yang)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Now the sky is blue and clean

After I read the article I looked out my window again, and the sky is very blue and very clean. For the past few days, Beijing’s skies are astonishingly clean and blue. In the past few months there have been a lot of hazy days, and I rarely saw blue skies. But I have never seen the dust storms that are mentioned in the article and in the pictures. Are those pictures part of spring time sandstorms, perhaps? (Translated by Michelle Deeter)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Very bad system function of posting comments!

It takes several clicks on the "post" button to post a comment, please improve it!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



CNN-style photos

What typical CNN-style photos! They are genuine, except for the date and location. It is an old trick of the western media to present a biased report on China through a seemingly objective perspective.
(Comment translated by Bin Yang)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



本评论由Bin Yang翻译

Not sure if picture goes with story

i agree with the first posting. it looks like the photos were taken after a sandstorm in beijing. there is definitely a pollution problem in china....it's no secret...but these images may be a bit misleading way to illustrate china's pollution problem in general. sandstorms are more of a meteorological phenomenon. some smog related photos or daily use of face masks would be a more accurate way to illustrate this story.

-another photojournalist in bj.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



I think the writer is trying to remind everyone of environmental protection

It is very clear that these are pictures of vehicles in the parking lots underneath pedestrian bridges. I think the writer didn't distort the time and the place. I understand the photographer’s intent. This is really just one technique, one point of view. The photographer is trying to say that Beijing’s air quality is something that everyone needs to take care of, and he is using these pictures to say that we need to protect the environment. That’s all. The purpose of this website is to discuss China’s environment. It is not as disorderly and confused as CNN’s attacks on China. I think Beijing’s air had improved greatly, but why haven’t people taken control of the areas below pedestrian walkways? It greatly affects people's impression on the city. (Translated by Michelle Deeter)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


评论6说照片是在其它地方或者其它时间拍的,这样说并无根据。很明显,地点是在北京。因为车牌显示这辆车是北京注册的。我绝对相信这张照片是最新拍的。我没有理由去怀疑它,因为我在北京亲眼见过类似的污染情况。个人而言,这个系列的照片是很客观的。这照片没有对空气污染问题上进行道德批判,只是照片而已以及一篇短短的描述(当中并没有任何评论或结论,只是数据而已)你可以自己作个结论。但,这很明显是北京。(本评论由Canly Tseng翻译)


There is no evidence to back up number 6's claims that the photos were taken somewhere else, or at a different time. The location is clearly Beijing, as the license plates are all Beijing-registered. And I can strongly believe the photos were taken recently. I have no reason to doubt it, having seen similar air pollution in Beijing with my own eyes. The photos series, in my opinion, is very objective. It makes no moral judgment on the air pollution question, it's just a series of photos and a small commentary (which has no comment or conclusion, it's just statistics really) -- you can draw your own conclusions. It's clearly Beijing, though.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


本评论由Lijin Zeng翻译


On comment #9: have to say that I'm officially pissed off by you describing this as "objective". I see for myself, too. Beijing IS under severe pollution, but taking those pix as the TYPICAL situation - is your illusions.