The day Shenyang’s air pollution went off the charts

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Matt Damon’s movie The Martian gave us a little more insight into how humankind can survive in supremely inhospitable environments. The film was fictional, of course, but earlier this week the residents of Shenyang got their own taste of what Mars might be like as they donned heavy-duty masks to fight smog levels.

CCTV News reported that pollution had reached stratospheric levels in parts of the northeastern city. Even by the standards of China’s woeful air quality, Shenyang’s skies were awful – some readings were showing PM2.5 levels 50 times higher than those recommended as safe by the World Health Organisation, according to the BBC.

The culprits for the deadening smog? A combination of heavy industry, construction work and the revving up of coal-fired power stations as winter temperatures dropped.

There was a lot of comment about the foul air on weibo, with one user lamenting: “I can’t go on living like this, if it goes on any longer everyone will probably get cancer.”

But there was Blitz-spirit humour online too. One of the most popularly forwarded posts was an ironic analysis of the air quality, using language more commonly heard at wine tastings.

It read: “Compared to the heavy haze in Beijing, intense haze in Hebei, humid haze in Shanghai and cold haze in Guangdong, I prefer the mellow northern haze in Shenyang, which is so real and specific. The sweet fishiness of black soil and the carbon fragrance arising from straw burning are fully mixed, ​​plus the catalysis of exhaust gas and the background of low pressure, and finally blended with sulphur smoke from heat sources, making the northern haze taste palatable and linger in the lungs after inhalation, causing the inhalers to get excited. This is the crystallisation of human toil and the gifts of nature.”

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