Heavy smog has again cast its gloomy shadow on China's East and North regions, while a heated debate on whether the air pollution has gone "out of control" is now running wild. The official department insists that the situation is not that dire, but online opinion prefers to trust data released by the US Embassy in Beijing. Thus, the debate is not a result of misinterpretations of pollution levels, but a matter of government credibility. The government can easily lose this argument.
On the other hand, mixed responses to the smog have drawn a clear definition to China's developing-country status, as both its environmental protection and its credibility system are fragile.
China's environmental protection is hardly a functional system. The country's industrialization was low and had few automobile industries until relatively recently. Its cities could not cope with this sudden explosion. Although society was aware of environmental protection 20 years ago when its development started to accelerate, this awareness has proved to be one of the hardest and dearest to put into practice.
We are now beginning to realize the real difference between a developed country and a developing one. The former can have advanced industries, cars owned by every family and blue skies, while the latter can only choose between industry or nature.
The Chinese have been pursing a quality of life that comes under a blue sky. But we have not been able to bring this blueprint into reality. Our society needs to face the reality at present. Our pollution has become severe. It is time for us to shift our focus from development to protection. China should also strive for the environmental protection result seen in developed countries.
But meanwhile, China and developed states are incomparable in some ways. We set them as our goal because it will motivate us to speed up our reform.
But it is unrealistic to make that goal a demand today. Some have challenged, "Are Chinese doomed to suffer? Why cannot we live in the same environment as developed countries?" while some others have even taken the issue to a political scale, claiming that this is a result of lacking democracy.
This is irrational. China was unable to feed itself 30 years ago. It has been gradually gaining development momentum, but it cannot become "developed" overnight.
There is no more reason to delay an overall campaign against air pollution. It needs the participation of every individual. For the government, covering things up or one-off drives, like that seen ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, can no longer be seen as a quick fix. For citizens, we all have to make our due contribution to win this battle. Every one of us is behind the air pollution more or less.
The clean air campaign cannot prevail without a sound legal and moral environment. Many netizens, while cursing bad air online, drive gas-guzzlers. They should look at their life while asking why we no longer have a blue sky.
A public yearning for clean air will also be a process reshaping China in many ways. It may be a bit messy, but can stir new hope.