Mention to anyone that you are going to spend some time in Beijing, let alone work there for a few months a year, and the knee-jerk response is: ‘how can you breathe there? Isn’t the air terrible?’

The American Embassy seems to be responsible for this one, publishing ‘air quality’ reports as a counter to the ones by the Chinese government. To be added are the lapdog news reports on how terrible the air in Beijing is supposed to be. Soon enough, people unthinkingly associate Beijing with dreadful air quality.

Yet, for some reason I struggled to find that bad air. The day I arrived, on my most recent visit, the sky was blue with a few clouds. Even more, most of the time there – a month in mid-summer when the air is at its worst – the sky was clear.

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True, it used to be bad, but in the last few years the government has made concerted efforts to clean it up, with considerable results. Of course, there are still days when it’s hazy, but the results are pretty stunning for a city of 23 million. Makes one realise how quickly things can be done regarding the climate when you put your mind to it.

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Perhaps there’s model here for the ditherers elsewhere in the world.

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