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Photos of China's 'Airpocalypse' — where industrial smog makes the country into living hell for half a billion people

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(Jason Lee/Reuters)

While Americans embrace the crisp, cool air of the holiday season, on the other side of the globe, about a half billion people living in northern China face the "airpocalypse" — or smog season.

The thick, toxic air has caused flights to be canceled, classes to be suspended, and alerts to be issued by the government encouraging people to insulate themselves from air. Under a charcoal-tinted sky and toxic fumes, half a billion people can't live or step outside without wearing masks.

It's a living hell.

As someone who grew up in China for 18 years, the first time I saw blue sky and white clouds was four years ago when I first arrived in Boston for college. I'm not even from the North, where the worst of the smog all but blocks out the sun.

Even having grown up in China, I'm still shocked seeing these pictures — pictures of people trying to live their life under threat, pictures showing what a country has to sacrifice in order to be the world's second-largest economy.

By the way, if you feel the pictures below are not clear or bright enough, it's not because of the picture quality — it's the smog.

China's smog problem has reached "red alert," the highest level in China's four-tiered pollution warning system.

China's smog problem has reached "red alert," the highest level in China's four-tiered pollution warning system. play

China's smog problem has reached "red alert," the highest level in China's four-tiered pollution warning system.

(China Stringer Network/Reuters)

Source: The Guardian



A paramilitary police officer wearing a mask stands guard in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong during smog at Tiananmen Square. Only the silhouettes of people standing further away could be been in the photos.

A paramilitary police officer wearing a mask stands guard in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong during smog at Tiananmen Square. Only the silhouettes of people standing further away could be been in the photos. play

A paramilitary police officer wearing a mask stands guard in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong during smog at Tiananmen Square. Only the silhouettes of people standing further away could be been in the photos.

(Jason Lee/Reuters)


But not even heavy smog can stop Chinese people from watching the daily flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square even during a "red alert."

But not even heavy smog can stop Chinese people from watching the daily flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square even during a "red alert." play

But not even heavy smog can stop Chinese people from watching the daily flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square even during a "red alert."

(Jason Lee/Reuters)


Kids growing up here will have to deal with the longterm effects of inhaling hazardous pollution.

Kids growing up here will have to deal with the longterm effects of inhaling hazardous pollution. play

Kids growing up here will have to deal with the longterm effects of inhaling hazardous pollution.

(Jason Lee/Reuters)


The street in Shandong Province is no different than a scene from the horror movie "Silent Hill."

The street in Shandong Province is no different than a scene from the horror movie "Silent Hill." play

The street in Shandong Province is no different than a scene from the horror movie "Silent Hill."

(China Stringer Network/Reuters)


It is painful to live under toxic fumes— the smog has affected 460 million people, a population equivalent to those of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, combined.

It is painful to live under toxic fumes— the smog has affected 460 million people, a population equivalent to those of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, combined. play

It is painful to live under toxic fumes— the smog has affected 460 million people, a population equivalent to those of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, combined.

(Reuters)

Source: The Guardian



A wall depicts Beijing's impressive skyscrapers under a vivid blue sky, but the reality is a pale comparison. Scientists found the sulfate levels in Beijing's air is approaching those produced by volcanic eruptions.

A wall depicts Beijing's impressive skyscrapers under a vivid blue sky, but the reality is a pale comparison. Scientists found the sulfate levels in Beijing's air is approaching those produced by volcanic eruptions. play

A wall depicts Beijing's impressive skyscrapers under a vivid blue sky, but the reality is a pale comparison. Scientists found the sulfate levels in Beijing's air is approaching those produced by volcanic eruptions.

(Andy Wong/AP Photo)

Source: South China Morning Post



But life must go on. Here a mother and son bond outdoors despite a heavily polluted day in Beijing.

But life must go on. Here a mother and son bond outdoors despite a heavily polluted day in Beijing. play

But life must go on. Here a mother and son bond outdoors despite a heavily polluted day in Beijing.

(Andy Wong/AP Photo)


Not all children are so lucky. Here parents take their children to hospitals on the second straight day of a pollution alert across the country's north.

Not all children are so lucky. Here parents take their children to hospitals on the second straight day of a pollution alert across the country's north. play

Not all children are so lucky. Here parents take their children to hospitals on the second straight day of a pollution alert across the country's north.

(Andy Wong/AP Photo)


Thousands of young Chinese across the country dream of living in Beijing, just as many Americans dream of making it to New York City. But in the China's capital they find themselves plagued by toxic air. One said, “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live.”

Thousands of young Chinese across the country dream of living in Beijing, just as many Americans dream of making it to New York City. But in the China's capital they find themselves plagued by toxic air. One said, “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live.” play

Thousands of young Chinese across the country dream of living in Beijing, just as many Americans dream of making it to New York City. But in the China's capital they find themselves plagued by toxic air. One said, “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live.”

(Jason Lee/Reuters)

Source: The Guardian



People have to wear respiratory protection mask everywhere, even indoors.

People have to wear respiratory protection mask everywhere, even indoors. play

People have to wear respiratory protection mask everywhere, even indoors.

(Jason Lee/Reuters)


And people still need to exercise, even if it risks their lung health.

And people still need to exercise, even if it risks their lung health. play

And people still need to exercise, even if it risks their lung health.

(Lyu Wenzheng/VCG via Getty Images)


This man dons a full-on respirator, much more heavy duty than the surgical masks more broadly worn throughout Asia.

This man dons a full-on respirator, much more heavy duty than the surgical masks more broadly worn throughout Asia. play

This man dons a full-on respirator, much more heavy duty than the surgical masks more broadly worn throughout Asia.

(Andy Wong/AP Photo)


These school children have to exercise indoors, but many of the schools suspended classes.

These school children have to exercise indoors, but many of the schools suspended classes. play

These school children have to exercise indoors, but many of the schools suspended classes.

(China Stringer Network/Reuters)


But on special occasions, the government can get rid of the charcoal-tinted sky. The air was clear when APEC summit was held in Beijing in 2014 — a traffic ban of odd-even license plates was carried out for a better air quality.

But on special occasions, the government can get rid of the charcoal-tinted sky. The air was clear when APEC summit was held in Beijing in 2014 — a traffic ban of odd-even license plates was carried out for a better air quality. play

But on special occasions, the government can get rid of the charcoal-tinted sky. The air was clear when APEC summit was held in Beijing in 2014 — a traffic ban of odd-even license plates was carried out for a better air quality.

(VCG/VCG via Getty Images)


But after APEC, when the world's attention has turned away, traffic resumed and the smog came back.

But after APEC, when the world's attention has turned away, traffic resumed and the smog came back. play

But after APEC, when the world's attention has turned away, traffic resumed and the smog came back.

(Jason Lee/Reuters)


Beijing welcomed US President Barack Obama and his Air Force One with a slightly blue sky during the 2014 APEC summit.

Beijing welcomed US President Barack Obama and his Air Force One with a slightly blue sky during the 2014 APEC summit. play

Beijing welcomed US President Barack Obama and his Air Force One with a slightly blue sky during the 2014 APEC summit.

(Lintao Zhang/AP Photo)


But Air China passenger planes were shrouded by heavy smog this week. Beijing Capital international airport cancelled hundreds of flights due to low visibility.

But Air China passenger planes were shrouded by heavy smog this week. Beijing Capital international airport cancelled hundreds of flights due to low visibility. play

But Air China passenger planes were shrouded by heavy smog this week. Beijing Capital international airport cancelled hundreds of flights due to low visibility.

(Andy Wong/AP Photo)

Source: South China Morning Post



The biggest factor causing China's toxic smog: the burning of coal. As families consume coal for heating, the air quality deteriorates every winter.

The biggest factor causing China's toxic smog: the burning of coal. As families consume coal for heating, the air quality deteriorates every winter. play

The biggest factor causing China's toxic smog: the burning of coal. As families consume coal for heating, the air quality deteriorates every winter.

(China Stringer Network/Reuters)

Source: South China Morning Post



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