China's 10 cities with the worst air quality are Xingtai, Shijiazhuang, Baoding, Handan, Langfang, Hengshui, Jinan, Tangshan, Beijing, and Zhengzhou; all of which are concentrated within or adjacent to Hebei Province. This country's chronic air pollution problem has received substantial international attention and in the northern provinces where it's the worst, the quality of life for over half a billion people has been seriously compromised. Decades of runaway economic development, unenforced environmental policy, as well as hundreds of millions of new cars on the road are contributing factors but most of the blame is squarely on coal. China burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, relying on it for 70% of its power needs. Traveling by train throughout the region, the dire consequence is undeniable in the persistent haze that blankets much of the landscape, making it unpleasant to breathe without a mask or respirator.
I began my travels in southern China; comparatively less industrialized, more agricultural, and thus noticeably cleaner air. At first, I had no issues but as I made my way further north, the air got progressively thicker and more noxious. In the central city of Wuhan the situation was getting bad but by the time I got to Xi'an, I was feeling positively asthmatic. After I had been in the country for about a month, I awoke one morning and felt as if someone was standing on my chest. I could not catch my breath and this is when I began wearing a surgical mask like everyone else here. I was skeptical at first, thinking, "if the air is really this bad, how much difference could a piece of cotton make?" The answer is whether you prefer to wheeze or you prefer to breathe. The masks aren't a safety precaution, they're an aspect of many people's lives here.
Cookie Cutter High Density Housing is a Common Feature all over the Chinese Countryside.
Schoolkids in Beijing. Some days the Air is so Toxic, Children aren't Allowed Outdoors. Occasionally School is Even Cancelled.
Mao's Young Pioneers. All Schoolchildren in China must pledge their loyalty to the Communist Party,
Identified by their Red Arm Band, "Public Security Volunteers" are Found all over China, apparently 1.5 Million in Beijing alone.
Beijing's Infamous TIANANMEN SQUARE, The Heart of the Ruling Communist Party's Power.
Fully militarized, the Chinese Government has gone to great lengths to ensure what happened here in 1989 will never happen again.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace at TIANANMEN SQUARE, Beijing. Chairman Mao is universally regarded here as the Father of Modern China.
Massive, Inescapable Crowds at all of Beijing's Historical and Cultural Centers.
Beijing at Rush Hour.