Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Xi Jinping makes light of Beijing’s heavy air pollution


     In reference to Beijing’s air pollution, Xi Jinping said, “we mustn’t be impatient in the face of problems” and that we should, “adopt a calm and collected life approach toward these problems.” When describing the coal pollution and severe sandstorms of his youth in Beijing he further added, “Back then we didn’t have PM2.5, but we did have PM250.” According to the report by China’s Phoenix News, all those around him laughed aloud in response.

     Evidently, he seized the opportunity to make a light joke about heavy air pollution in Beijing and he almost appears nostalgic and accepting of the fact that Beijing has faced serious air pollution for half a century.

     Perhaps instead he should have said PM二百五 (er bai wu – another way of saying 250 in Chinese), which is also colloquial Chinese for a “dimwit” or “someone who says or does inappropriate or foolish things”.  
 
     On a more serious note, however, he seems to be attempting to defuse the issue by implying that Beijing’s air pollution was even worse back when he was a young boy, although I imagine very few people would find this convincing. Ironically, one could just as easily interpret his comments as a blunt admission that Beijing has been facing serious pollution for the last 50 years or so, most of the period in which China has been under communist rule. Perhaps it is also a subtle jab at the U.S. embassy's monitoring and publishing of air pollution in Beijing, despite being curtly requested by an unamused Beijing government to refrain from doing so. 

     Either way, it smacks of ill-advised hubris, but it is also consistent with so many of his bold pronouncements of late, inasmuch as it hints at the new ruler's confidence in his ability to control the course of events in China, quite likely stemming from his princeling pedigree as part of the red aristocratic elite which controls most of China's wealth and now has 4 members out of 7 in the inner sanctum of absolute power - the standing committee of China's politburo.

     In my humble view, it shows a serious lack of good judgement, and it will certainly not gain him any points in China or internationally. In a worst case scenario, PM er bai wu could become a damning and sarcastic sound bite that could easily gain traction among Chinese micro-bloggers and Chinese society at large that pokes fun at the leader’s cavalier approach to China’s serious and growing environmental crisis. Surely he would not want to go down in history as the leader who was smug about smog.

习近平把北京的严重污染当笑话看待

提到空气污染时,习近平说“不用着急”要“淡定面对它”。他还说小时候北京“没有PM2.5,但是有PM250”。对严重污染如此淡薄,还把它当作笑话来看待,连小布什很可能都不会犯这么低级的错误。如果把它说成PM二百五会不会取得更大的笑声呢?

Translation and Chinese/English commentary by Chris Harry
News source: Phoenix news report by Du Ping

Update: Bill Bishop seems to have already made a veiled reference to PM二百五(er bai wu) on Sina's Weibo Microblog today (March 7th, 2013).