Thoughts on Beijing


I was in Beijing just a little over a week ago. Steve isn’t kidding about the smog — on the bad days, visibility is about 10 blocks. On the very worst day, I couldn’t see clearly from one side of Tienanmen Square to the other. That was a Friday, which is important because, according to locals, that is the day of the week on which the clouds are seeded to clear out the pollution. I was told on a clear Friday afternoon that there would be heavy rain at precisely 7:30 and sure enough, the rains came.
A prediction: the big story BEFORE the Olympics start will be athletes complaining about the pollution. Right now, it’s not a story because the bureau chiefs and in-country reporters who are there are used to it. After the torch arrives, it’ll be all about the events (plus, the government plans to limit driving in the city and shut down local industry). But somewhere in the middle, when athletes and sports reporters arrive in advance of the games, this is going to be a big story.
Here’s one more uncorroborated rumor passed along from an architect currently supervising the construction of the CCTV building, pictured above. According to the architect, the building will be the second largest building in the world by square footage to the Pentagon. More interestingly, its construction has single-handedly created a spike in world steel prices.
Can anyone confirm or deny? I’m curious.
— Scott Paul


9 comments on “Thoughts on Beijing

  1. Joe C says:

    China plans to shut down most facilities contributing to Beijing air pollution for an extended period before and during the Olympics. A test run was conducted last October – during I think a Peoples Congress meeting – when a colleagues was in Bejing. Essentially the entire week was clear and sunny. Use of cars in Beijing is also being restricted during the Olympics to reduce assocaited air pollution.
    So the world probably won’t be seeing the typical Beijing “dark skies”.


  2. joe says:

    I was in Beijing as well last week and the air quality seems to be getting worse every time I go there. On a more positive note. I have really seen an improvement in the cleaniness of the country over the past several years. In the past, there was trash everywhere. Now, there are people up before dawn, picking up trash and washing off the sidewalks. And this is not Olympics related, I was also in a town with no Olympic or tourism ties. Pride of place is starting to take hold in China and it is only a matter of time before the people demand clean air to go with their clean streets.


  3. Ernst says:

    TB: we were talking about square feet not cubic, So the NASA’s Vertical Assembly Building doesn´t count.
    A rough comparison:
    The Pentagon: 6,500,000 ft²
    CCTV: 5,900,000 ft²
    Sears Tower: 4,600,000 ft²
    The Everett Plant: 4,300,000 ft²
    The CCTV building´s size is deceptive due to it´s shape. The two link ups to the legs at the bottom and the top increase the amount of square feet a lot.


  4. TB says:

    “According to the architect, the building will be the second largest building in the world by square footage to the Pentagon.”
    Do you mean second largest for an office building?
    Because Boeing’s Everett Washington facility looks a LOT bigger than the CCTV building, and NASA’s Vertical Assembly Building contains more sheer volume (cubic feet) than the Everett plant.
    The CCTV building is only ~50 stories tall, so I really don’t see how it cold have the space of even a large office skyscraper, say the Sears Tower or the John Hancock Building.


  5. Jack says:

    Who knows how a President Obama will deal with China? You’ll get some insight into Obama at


  6. Beth in VA says:

    Thanks for the link, Sam–it real thing is much different than the architects’ sketch, through all the smog.


  7. Craig says:

    China is the future and it’s not pretty. In the 1950s, I lived in the
    L.A. area before the pollution laws went into effect. It got bad
    sometimes. Where did the companies with the worst pollution
    go? First they went to other states and then eventually to places
    like China. A certain percentage of China’s pollution is America’s
    pollution. Add China’s heavy use of coal and growing
    desertification and you get photos like those above and the ones
    James Fallows shows. This is not sustainable. Not in China and
    not anywhere else.
    By the way, large areas of California just suffered through a
    week of heavy smoke in many areas around the state. It was a
    reminder of just how bad air quality can get.
    Pollution, whether it’s carbon dioxide, sulfur emissions,
    acidification of the seas, fertilizer and pesticide runoff, plastic in
    the oceans and so on is quickly becoming a major international
    and foreign policy issue.


  8. pauline says:

    Air pollution from Beijing can now be registered in Hawaii, California and Colorado.
    So When they’re busy manufacturing all the sh*t Americans buy at the WalMarts, K-Marts, Targets, Lowes, Home Depots, Circuit Citys, Costco’s, etc, etc, we’re now not just buying all that cheap sh*t, we’re breathing it.
    Maybe NY Times Foreign correspondent and author Thomas Freidman had it right on C-Span Book TV this past weekend when he said —
    “Green is the new red, white, and blue, I declare and I propose that an ambitious national strategy–which I call geo-greenism–is not only what we need to save the planet from overheating, it is what we need to make America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure in the coming E.C.E.–the Energy-Climate Era. Green-oriented practices and technologies, established at scale everywhere from Washington to Wal-Mart, are both the only way to mitigate climate change and the best way for America to ‘get its groove back’ and to reknit America at home, reconnect America abroad, retool America for the new century, and restore America to its natural place in the global order.”
    It may hard to convince anyone in Beijing to change their gross polluting ways, but Freidman will probably sell a lot of books to people who can’t or won’t make the differences.


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