Photo diary records air pollution and belies China’s official count of “Blue Sky Days”

December 21, 2010Jing Gao7 Comments, , , , , , , , , , ,

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365 Days of “Blue Sky Diary” by Two Beijingers
Two people, a foolproof film camera, a heart that embraces a blue sky, and above  all, perseverance that carries them on for 365 days. What can these do? Let’s count how many purely “blue sky days” Beijing has in a year.


Photographers Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao wrote in the preface of the photo diary:

“We were both born and brought up in Beijing. We love our city. Faced with problems such as air pollution, we want to do more than simply complain every day. We want to take proactive steps.

For those who live in Beijing, ‘Blue Sky Index’ is very familiar. This is an indicator that the authorities use to give a quick summary of air quality. In 1998, Beijing records 100 “blue-sky day;” in 2009, it is said there are 285! Though the measuring methods and standards are somewhat controversial, but to find out how many on earth there are, we decided to make a count ourselves.

Therefore, from June 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010, we took a picture of the sky over Beijing each day. In the picture, there is invariably a road sign. When the sky is blue, we will also invite a passerby to appear in the picture wearing a pair of funny glasses.

We use an outdated foolproof film camera, because shooting photos for an environmental protection cause shouldn’t require expensive equipment. Moreover, the film has a factual nature. Digital photos can be retouched and manipulated.

From our photo diary, we finally count 180 days on which the sky looks genuinely blue, which accounts for 49% of a year.Even though dates of our photos didn’t fall in a calendar year, it is still too far away from 78%, the figure that the authorities announced.


June 3, 2009. On Linglong Rd. She, a sanitation worker, 38, comes from Beijing.


June 18, 2009. On Chaoyang Rd. Overcast.


July 6, 2009. On Jianguo Rd. Overcast.


July 25, 2009. Outside National Library of China. She, 70, comes from Baoding, Hebei Province; a bus designer; has been living in Beijing for 45 years.


August 21, 2009. On South Chaowai Rd. Overcast.


September 15, 2009. On North Gongrentiyuchang Rd. He, 25, comes from London, United Kingdom; a consultant to a winery; has been in Beijing for 2.5 years.


August 22, 2009. On Wanhong Rd. She, 30, comes from Liuzhou, Guangxi Province; a freelance designer; has been in Beijing for four years.


September 25, 2009. On Jinbao Rd. Overcast.


October 1, 2009. Near Dongtieying Bridge. He, 66, comes from Beijing; a retired official.


october 23, 2009. At the entrance of Beijing-Chengde Expressway. Overcast.


November 7, 2009. On Furong Rd. Overcast.


December 19, 2009. Near Chaoyang Park Bridge. He, 56, comes from Beijing; a sanitation worker.


December 23, 2009. On Yongding Rd. Overcast.


January 23, 2010. On Liangshidian St. He, 40, comes from Singapore; a futures trader; have been in Beijing for four days.


January 8, 2010. Near Silk Market. Overcast.


February 16, 2010. On East 3rd Ring Road. She, 32, comes from Beijing; a pharmacist.


February 24, 2010. On East 2nd Ring Road. Overcast.


March 22, 2010. Overcast.


March 26, 2010. On Huayuan St. She, 38, comes from Inner Mongolia; a reporter; has been living in Beijing for 10 years.


April 11, 2010. Near Jingguang Bridge. Overcast.


April 30, 2010. Beihuashi Ave. She, 55, comes from Beijing; a retired civil servant.






From the 365 photos that Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao took, we unmistakenly see grays and blues within a year, with a clear  dividing line. Blue is bright; faces smile like a blooming flower. Grey is gloomy; emptiness and oblivion fills the air.

Lu Weiwei and Fan Tao said emphatically that they didn’t think of challenging anyone with the factual figure.
They simply wanted to keep a diary of a year for the sky over Beijing using their camera.

According to Lu and Fan, white-collar workers between the age of 20 and 40 are mostly inclined to turn down the photo request. Lu Weiwei felt a bit sorry for that, “This demographic is the group of people who can have the biggest influence on the society and environment. Maybe stress of surviving in this city and setbacks have given rise to people’s vigilance and nonchalance.”

The photo diary has drawn much attention after being posted on the Web. Experts at China’s EPA responded that
The Blue Sky program measures inhalable particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and airborne particulate matter. Pollutants are measured on a scale of 1 to 500, with 500 considered the worst score. Any rating below 101 meets national air quality standards and is considered a “Blue Sky day.” That is to say, even if the sky doesn’t look blue, or it is raining, as long as it meets the standard, it is a blue sky.

Selected comments from

腾讯北京市网友 磊磊:
The government only knows how to brag.
腾讯网友 $$原子弹$$^:
I have been in Beijing for two years. When it comes to the environment, it is terrible. Blue sky can be seen only in the autumn or on windy days, so I rarely use my solar-power heater. Every day there is traffic congestion on my way to work. Beijing is the least livable place for human. I don’t like that you can’t enjoy the basic clean air in Beijing. Beijing’s Tongzhou has a Langshui River. It stinks and the smell can spread to miles away. Color of the water is even black. Too many people, too many cars, too much carbon dioxide. Farewell, Beijing. I never want to see you again.
腾讯张家口市网友 蓝天:
On seeing a blue sky, I felt great and bright. But now blue sky is sort of a luxury to us. The only place where we can truly appreciate Mother Nature’s pure and blue sky is remote and undisturbed villages!
腾讯台州市网友 小四:
I always divide the official figure by two, or by ten, sometimes even by a hundred.
腾讯北京市网友 空气治理专家:
I support you guys. You have my back. You have, in the best way, explained to us that the actual air quality and air pollution is worth everyone’s attention, and actions, starting from every little thing, should be taken by every one.
腾讯网友 勿忘我的欢歌:
I have been living in Beijing for eight years. Each day, under the gray sky, I felt like weeping, but had no tears.
腾讯网友 璇尐゛り格:
I am touched by this. What kind of spirit this is! We young people should learn from this. Cheer up!
腾讯西安市网友 开心果:
I hope that my nose is no longer filled with dust after I am back from morning jogging. I hope that the sky is no longer gray when it is noon.
腾讯湛江市网友 超人:
They have given us back a blue sky that we’ve almost forgot. An admirable deed!
腾讯廊坊市网友 ╉蘇懜▂:
Beijing has indeed seen more blue sky days in the past two months. I mentioned this to my colleague just yesterday…

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7 comments to “Photo diary records air pollution and belies China’s official count of “Blue Sky Days””

  1. Hao Hao Report | December 21, 2010 | Permalink Reply

    Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tamara Gomez, Ministry of Tofu 豆腐部. Ministry of Tofu 豆腐部 said: Photo diary records air pollution and belies China’s official count of “Blue Sky Days” | Ministry of Tofu [...]

  3. [...] quality of China’s environment. Meanwhile, using their own cameras, Beijing residents have shown that the city’s “blue-sky days” are much rarer than official statistics [...]

  4. [...] quality of China’s environment. Meanwhile, using their own cameras, Beijing residents have shown that the city’s “blue-sky days” are much rarer than official statistics [...]

  5. [...] quality of China’s environment. Meanwhile, using their own cameras, Beijing residents have shown that the city’s “blue-sky days” are much rarer than official statistics [...]

  6. [...] count of “Blue Sky Days” [...]

  7. Max | September 5, 2011 | Permalink Reply

    LOL Aren't the photos a little bit manipulated? How come they have focus on both the people and the roadsigns? And some pics are obviously retouched, and badly. like the 22 august, for instance.

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