Changes in the air

Beijing smog scatters - protest, too

The wonderful changes wrought on the Chinese capital for the Olympic Games means the quality of the air in Beijing is the best it’s been in a decade, and so into the second week of the world’s greatest sporting event, people are getting used to strange natural occurrences.

These include seeing the stars at night, and blue skies by day, clouds untinged by yellow smog, and air quality that is better than many American cities. Weather forecasters here have spoken of the sky being clear and overcast, an apparent contradiction, but a statement that makes perfect sense in a city hardened by years of pollution.

Beijing reported this month’s eighth day of excellent air quality Sunday, with the city’s Air Pollution Index (API) giving a Grade I reading.

The city has spent billions of dollars on cleaning up the air, closing factories and power stations and introducing drastic vehicle control methods such as a two-month system to keep cars off the road on alternate days.

The deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection has forecast excellent or fairly good weather for the remainder of the Olympics and Paralympics, although another meteorologist said wind changes Monday could bring pollutants from adjacent cities, such as Tianjin and Langfang.

While the air may be clearer, the chances of clearing the air over grievances against the Chinese government remain slight to nonexistent, despite the presence of three designated areas in public parks for protest by those with beefs against the leadership, or who wish to raise issues.

Every day the scene in Ritan Park, one of the three designated protest areas, is one of harmony and there is no whiff of dissent to spoil the Olympic party.

Last week, a Chinese activist from Fujian province was picked up by security officials when he went to check how his application to protest in the park against government corruption was coming along.

Another applicant in Beijing, Zhang Wei, who planned to protest the demolition of her courtyard home in the ancient neighborhood of Qianmen, was also detained, while land rights advocate Ge Yifei in Suzhou was whisked out of the city as she filled out the form.

A foreign woman and her son who wished to protest against environment degradation had a tough time of it. They came up against a polite wall of bureaucracy, requiring form after form, before saying her son was too young, and that by the time she filled out the form, the Games would be over.

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