The smog refugees from China

The new year in Beijing was ushered in with heavy smog. You could blame the stubborn habit of Chinese burning firecrackers. But there’s more to it.

In the last five years, smog was a popular topic in China. Beijing had 129 “polluted” days and 39 “severely polluted” days in 2016, according to China Daily.

When you look around, you will notice our lives have changed because of the smog. New words about the smog came into being, and new business opportunities have been formed. Of course, it has even created a new living class— smog refugees.

Different people have different ways of dealing with the smog. The most common way is to buy face masks and air purifiers. These equipment sold so well that it created a new business model named the smog economy.

“It sounds so pathetic,“ said Wu Fei, a friend of mine. He is a 29-year-old programmer living in Beijing. He told me that he spent almost RMB 10,000 (USD 1,455) on anti-smog equipment last year. He bought two air purifiers. One is in the living room and the other is in the bedroom.

“I bought the best professional face masks I can find in the market. I really contributed a lot to the smog economy,” he said with a laugh.

Photo credit: IQAir Youtube

That is not all. Some people chose to deal with it at a much higher cost. They are running away from the city, and even from this country. They have become smog refugees.

Some people have moved to Yunnan and Hainan, the southern provinces of China. These provinces are more eco-friendly, and surrounded by more nature without air pollution. However, these places are only suitable for young people. Due to the underdeveloped economy and poor education opportunities in these places, they are not ideal for families with children.

For these families, immigration seems to be a better choice.

Liu Xin, a 30-year-old Beijing native, never considered immigration before. But now she is for the sake of her children. She has two children – one a newborn and the other is aged two.

“I spent my entire Spring Festival holiday in hospital, ” she told me.

She said that both of her children have respiratory diseases. She suspected the illnesses were caused by the smog. She thinks the smog problem cannot be solved in such a short time. She has decided to work very hard with her husband for the next three years so that her family will look for an opportunity to immigrate.

“I have to move. I have no choice,” she said.

Lung cancer has become the number one cause of death in China, according to a report by the Oriental Outlook. Although there is no specific evidence related to the smog, the air certainly did nothing to help.

An immigration agency staff told me that since the United States has too many people on the waiting list, European countries such as Hungary are also good options for people thinking of migration.

Obviously, in order to become smog refugees, you will need to have some of these requirements: a stable economic foundation, being well educated and possessing professional skills to live in another country.

In my eyes, these people are from China’s middle class. They form the managements of companies, they are wealth creators as well as main consumers in the social economy. Losing these people is not a good thing for China.

In the long run, the middle class will devote themselves to the education of the next generation. China also risks losing these potential younger talents.

“I thought about immigration for many years,” Li Xiang told me. Li, a 35-year-old human resource manager in a Beijing company, is a mother of a 5-year-old boy.

“I was always hesitating. But now, the smog helped me with my decision,” she said.

Li’s son had been coughing a lot for no particular reason and he frequently felt short of breath.

“Even if I can live with the smog, I have to think for my son,” Li said.

Li said that she did not want her son to only see the blue sky through the television. On most days, he could not go outside and play.

“He is only five, he should be close to nature,” Li said.

At the end of last year, Li’s family moved to Canada. After they moved, she said her son never coughed again. Now, they can go to the park, sit on the grass and look at the blue sky.

greenpeace east asia youtube
Photo credit: Greenpeace East Asia Youtube

As for myself, I have considered the option of becoming a smog refugee and once discussed immigration with my husband.

“When we have enough money, how about moving to San Francisco? I have been there. It is an exquisite city,” I said.

“Hell no!” my husband answered.


“I cannot betray my Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James,” he replied.

Cleveland Cavaliers is a NBA team and their most important rival is the Warriors from San Francisco.

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