China’s government has proclaimed a “war against pollution” and promised its citizens that problems of air pollution will be solved in the foreseeable future. The frequent occurrence of urban haze that less than a decade ago was called “fog” (wu) is now popularly recognized as a result of pollution and referred to as “smog” (wumai). Judging from the explosive media interest in the topic of air pollution and the political efforts to address it, it is relevant to ask if smog is changing China.

The articles in this special section grow out of an interdisciplinary research project in which scholars from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences study how Chinese society makes sense of and deals with air pollution. To what extent is a general rise of concern for air pollution justified by the actual pollution levels seen in major Chinese cities? What is happening on the ground, where people and local governments have to cope with new perceived risks of air pollution? Is the “airpocalypse” a trigger for rising environmental consciousness in China, and if so, what does that mean and how is it expressed? Based on empirical data, several articles provide new insights into how central policies of air pollution are currently interpreted and implemented locally, and how not only urban but also rural populations experience and respond to air pollution. The special issue is also the first to trace Chinese media narratives of air pollution and its societal impacts back to the 1870s.

Common to all the articles is a profound interest in understanding if, how and to what extent political authorities, media, the general population and scientists in China interact in the face of the acknowledged risks that air pollution poses to the local environment, to China’s economic development and, not least, to individual health and well-being.


Highlight Articles (all Open Access):


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Photo Illustrations:


©Airborne, photo taken by Annica Thomssen
Poster taken by Anna Ahlers (member of the Airborne project)
©Airborne, photo taken by Annica Thomssen












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