As pollution levels in Beijing climbed beyond “hazardous” levels earlier this month, the city government was roundly criticised online for raising an “orange alert” rather than the more serious “red alert,” which would have shut down schools and forced restrictions on personal cars. This week, after a brief respite thanks to a cold front, the Beijing smog is back. And this time around, the authorities have responded with their first ever “red alert.”

It is difficult to imagine how PM2.5 levels approaching 300 micrograms per cubic metre could be condensed into positive media coverage — as opposed to poignant performance art. But for such feats there is always one place to look first: the Global Times newspaper.

Smog-shrouded Hangzhou
Smog-shrouded Hangzhou, city of Zhejiang province in Eastern China. Photo: Weibo.

This week, the Global Times, a tabloid published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, did not at all disappoint. In an article called, “Beijing’s ‘Red Alert’ is Hotly Discussed By The World: Praised for Its Determination in Dealing With Haze,” the newspaper suggested the Beijing government had been “courageous” in deciding to raise the red alert:

While many Internet users have still expressed anger that the red alert was not timely enough, and that major inconveniences have resulted, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and many media have said that Beijing is courageous and deserves praise for raising a red alert this time around.

If one gazes hard enough through the fog of negativity, it isn’t difficult to see the red alert as an unmistakable mark of progress. Writes the Global Times: “Compared to three or four years ago, when it was debated whether or not PM2.5 [pollution] should even be acknowledged, this recent raising of a red alert shows that China is determined to work toward preventing pollution and resolving the smog issue.”

In typical form, many Chinese Internet users have taken to social media to vent their frustrations over the worsening problem of air pollution. With cutting irony, they have put the Global Times accolades into perspective by transplanting the sentiment to other suitably outrageous contexts.
My selected translations of one chat thread follow.


11:07: A man rapes a woman and she becomes pregnant; he is praised as a modern-day Guanyin [bodhisattva] who brings fertility.

11:59: The Global Times eats shit before the people; the newspaper is praised for conserving grain.

11:32: A murderer leaves his victim’s body in a field, but later returns to give it a proper burial; he is praised for his boundless love.

11:27: After the mobster carries out a hit, he cautions people not to slip on the blood-soaked floor; he is praised for his kind-heartedness.

11:46: A reckless driver strikes a pedestrian, then backs the car up to finish them off and end their misery.

10:43: A wife goes on a rampage against her ex-husband’s mistress; she is praised as a leading light of Chinese martial arts.

12:21: A doddering septuagenarian dies of starvation in his home, with no one to care for him; his seven daughters make a big fuss about his
funeral and are praised for their filial piety.

10:36: A college student never listens during class or does any coursework, but at the end of the term he burns the midnight oil; he is praised as a pillar of socialism.

12:55: An unscrupulous teacher messes around with his female students and gets two of them pregnant; he is praised for upholding the Two-Child Policy and raising the birth rate.

12:15: After demanding 800 changes to a job, a client ultimately decides to go back to the first design draft; the designer praises the client for his keen eye.

11:22: In the smog-choked air, a city resident decides it is best to don a mask; she is accused of damaging the national image.

13:16: ISIS kills every infidel in the world; they are praised for a scientific view of development in lowering carbon emissions.

13:33: A son is always sticking his foot outside the covers as he sleeps. Worried he might catch cold, his mother amputates the foot; she is praised for her motherly care.

13:46: After sleeping with a prostitute, a man notifies the anti-indecency league; he is praised for doing his utmost for a civilised society.

UPDATE: Many of the above quips have now been rendered in cartoon form on WeChat. I append the results below.


David is the co-director of the China Media Project, a research and fellowship program with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. A frequent commentator on Chinese media, his writings have appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, Index on Censorship, the SCMP and others.