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Polls About Pollution: Chinese Netizens React Publicly On Sina Weibo

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Let me start this article off by saying that I love Beijing.  I have the ability to leave any time I want, but I have not.  I think that says a great deal about this city and its people.  Even though it faces problems like the one below, it has still managed to keep me.

Heave, Ho! This Pollution Problem’s Got to Go!

Over the weekend Sina Weibo once again became the platform for China’s citizens to voice their discontent with the current standards.  This time the target was China’s long standing decision to measure the pollution, particularly in Beijing, based on particle matter of 10 micrometers.  Globally, 2.5 micrometers is the typical standard.  While it may seems that larger particles are the bigger risk, scientists have established that is is in fact the smaller particles that pose the most danger to humans and animals.  This is because the smaller particles can cut and embed themselves deeper into the lungs than larger particles, increasing the long-term health risk they pose.

The U.S. Embassy has tracked Beijing’s air using the 2.5 micrometer standard for years under the premise that it needs to ensure that its citizens working in Beijing are aware of the threat.  China has requested that embassy cease and desist on several occasions, or in the alternative report the pollution level at the 10 micrometer level.

But this weekend, Pan Shiyi, a real estate tycoon, opened a poll to his 7.4 million followers on Sina Weibo.  The question posed in its simplest form was, “Do you want particle levels to be monitored at the 2.5 micrometer level by the goverment?”  The voter could vote to “introduce the new standard this year”, “next year”, or “not to introduce the standard”.

91% of the more than 38,000 netizens voted in favor setting the standard to 2.5 micrometers this year.  This vote was reposted by such Chinese celebrities as KaiFu Lee, Head of Innovation Works, and Yao Chen, an actress.

The airports in Beijing have seen drastic delays and cancellations due to the “fog” that has engulfed Beijing over the last few days.  One netizen decried that if they wanted to avoid recycled oil, they could eat at home.  If they wanted to avoid poisoned milk, they could not buy milk.  If they wanted to avoid dirty water, they could by water purifiers.  But now that the air is polluted, there’s no hope.

While the number of voters is actually quite small compared to previous polls on Sina Weibo, where some hot topics attract over 500,000 voters, the vote on particle monitoring cannot be ignored.  Pan stated that he would collect the finding and turn them over to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The Times of India reported that the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau has pledged to improve the way it measures air quality, adding it is capable of monitoring smaller particles but that no timetable had been set for the release of these figures.

Window to the Soul

If you really want to see what is going on in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people, Sina Weibo has become that window.  It has become a zone where Chinese netizens, despite not really being anonymous, have become comfortable in voicing opinions that were traditionally left unsaid.  Because of this, Sina is constantly facing control and censorship challenges from the government, but have managed to weather such challenges so far.  The problem for the government is that Sina Weibo has gotten so large that it puts the government into a Catch-22.  A lock down would cause an uproar, but leaving it open could cause the same thing over time.

Want to know what everyone is really talking about in the Middle Kingdom – technology or otherwise? My advice is to create a Sina Weibo account and start following the feeds of the various thought leaders online.

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