Friday, 4 November 2011

Fuming Mad

In the last few days there has been stories in the news about Beijing's worsening air quality and how people with serious respiratory problems should not even venture outside for fear of exacerbating their conditions.

Many had wondered how Chinese officials would deal with the worst air quality since before the Beijing Olympics but it turns out the answer is simple.

They have been using air filters for years.

When I lived in Beijing my colleagues joked that the canteens we ate at in state-owned enterprises had decent food quality because they were related to the government. And it was a widely-known secret top officials and senior cadres had access to tegong or special supplies for all kinds of things from food to cigarettes, stationary and electronic appliances.

But now the word is out that government officials improve the air quality around them, thanks to the disclosure by a mainland manufacturer of air purifiers.

According to Broad Group, a Hunan-based air-conditioner maker, at least 200 air purifiers are installed inside Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound where many top leaders like President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao live and work.

"They are everywhere in Zhongnanhai, from living rooms and meeting rooms to swimming pools and gyms," the website of one of the company's Beijing dealers said. "It is a blessing for the people that our purifiers have created a healthy and clean environment for state leaders."

Apparently top leaders have used Broad's air purifiers in Zhongnanhai since December 2008, after the Beijing Olympics.

The webpage also explains in detail how leaders were convinced of the necessity of using air purifiers when they saw proof of Beijing's filth -- "ink-coloured dirty water" from dust and pollution-covered filters -- at the end of a test in a meeting room used by Politburo Standing Committee members.

Not only are these air filters in Zhongnanhai, but also in the Great Hall of the People, the Diaoyutai State Guest House and many other government buildings.

It has also become essential when leaders travel around, according to Qi Zhiwang, a Broad Beijing-based sales manager.

Qi added air purifiers were a popular gift for foreign leaders and dignitaries including Bill Gates, Tony Blair and Ban Ki-moon.

Long Yongtu, former secretary general of the Boao Forum for Asia and chief negotiator for China's accession to the World Trade Organisation, said in a video clip on the company's website that he carried a portable air purifier wherever he travelled on the mainland.

"Air pollution has become so bad that I have to use the purifier in my car and even hotel rooms," he said.

This latest revelation has no doubt led to Beijingers fuming at their leaders for not tackling air pollution and only finding a solution to breathe better for themselves.

"No wonder they don't care about food safety and air quality, while the grass roots are drinking melamine-tainted milk, eating gutter cooking oil and breathing deeply polluted air," remarked a microblogger on Sina Weibo.

Professor Zhou Xiaozheng of Renmin University agreed. "Thanks to the over-concentration of power and one-party rule, the special privileges enjoyed by special-interest groups have become the root cause of China's political, social and environmental woes," he said.

Could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back and see thousands Occupy Beijing?

Probably not, but it's just another reason for people to despise the elite who obviously have no concern for the people.

In the meantime one wonders if Broad will continue supplying air filters to government officials much longer...

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