Man Captures Three Years of Beijing Air Pollution in Photos

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Every morning before going to work, Zou Yi snaps a photo of the Beijing Television skyscraper from his living-room window on the 13th floor. Sometimes, the skyscraper basks in bright blue sky. Other times, it’s barely discernible behind a thick cloud of smog.

For the last three years, Zou has been posting these photos along with the day’s air quality index on social media with the hashtag # BeijingAirNow. The photos have been viewed by more than 24 million people. The photo he took of the skyscraper engulfed in smog while President Xi Jinping was at a climate change summit in Paris got more than 10 million views alone.

Zou gathered the photos of each year to form composites. Each one takes the viewer on a journey through what every-day life looks like in Beijing.

Air pollution is no longer a touchy subject among Chinese officials and state-run media. In 2015, Beijing experienced what media outlets called “46 days of heavy air pollution.” That December, the government issued its first Red Alert warning for air pollution. Officials closed down schools along with factories, and pulled cars off roads.

This week, China issued a yellow alert. That’s the second-highest warning for air pollution. It was a first for the year.

Zou launched his project back in January 2013, when smog blanketed Beijing for two weeks in what foreigners dubbed “Airpocalypse.”

“I saw the building outside my window looming in the smog,” Zou told CNN. “Sometimes it disappeared completely and sometimes it just showed up.”

That’s when he decided to start taking pictures, and he hasn’t stopped since.

Still, Zou doesn’t believe his photos alone will combat air pollution.

“I do think that our government should do more, but people in our society also need to contribute,” Zou said. “They need to be aware of the pollution and participate in the monitoring and improvement of air quality.”


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