Beijing

19 Nov
November 19, 2014

I managed to see the full-range of Beijing skies in my very packed two and a half day visit (which has just come to an end): the sky was almost perfectly blue on Monday; yesterday the sky was still blue, with just a fringe of yellow on the horizons; today it was blocked by an impenetrable white haze of smog and mist.  A student I met said her dormitory room was unusually cold last week because the supply of coal used to heat the dorms was cut off during the APEC meetings—a small part of the price of the blue sky.

Having spent the morning yesterday at the Forbidden City, which is right next to China’s current governmental buildings, it occurred to me that Beijing’s pollution falls on the elite as well as the poor.  Perhaps this will make Chinese leaders more sensitive to the health risks and other consequences of the pollution than they would be if the Chinese factories were further removed from the capital city.

The Forbidden City itself is quite beautiful, and was quite mobbed.  It was originally built in the early 1400s, during the Ming Dynasty, and consists of a series of highly decorated buildings progressing from an outer court where the Emperor’s ministers lived to an inner court where he and his inner circle lived.  I seemed to be one of the few Westerners there; many of the men who had come had notably calloused hands (which I noticed as we all jostled for position at the windows of the palace buildings), which seemed to confirm my host’s comment that the Forbidden City is especially popular with traditionalists and men and women from the Chinese countryside.

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