BEIJING, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- The smog covering northern China has not only had an impact on people's lives, but awakened the creativity of individuals who want cleaner air.
Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei have been choking since Thursday. On Friday, PM 2.5 readings exceeded 200 micrograms per cubic meter, eight times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization.
The National Meteorological Center on Thursday forecast the smog would linger for a at least a week as no cold front is in sight to disperse it.
Beijing on Monday maintained orange alert, the second-highest level, with smog forecast for another three days.
Beijing has a four-tier alert system: blue, yellow, orange and red. Orange means children and the elderly are advised to stay indoors and to wear masks if they go out. Kindergartens and primary schools must suspend outdoor activities, and middle schools have to cancel PE classes and exercises during breaks.
In most schools in the city, the routine flag raising ceremony and exercises between second and third class have been suspended.
A teacher at Zhongguancun No. 3 primary school said the flag ceremony was held in the classroom instead. In Beijing Fangcaodi International School, students were stuck inside even for PE.
Chen Hongyu, 28, a mother-to-be in the capital, has donned a mask and cut her time outdoors. "I am worried that my baby will develop asthma, but I have nowhere to escape to," she said.
Chen is originally from Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan Province, another smoggy city. Chengdu had record air pollution in late December.
"The dilemma is that the only thing I can do to help is to use my car less, but the only way to escape the miasma is in my car," she said.
For white-collar worker Zhang Ming, wearing a mask outdoors has become the norm. "Health is the stepping stone for fighting smog," said Zhang, adding that he had spent a fortune on healthfood and air purifiers to try to dodge ill effects.
Many lives have been changed by the smog, but some have taken steps to change things.
Fang Da maintains a WeChat account called "Smog Survival Handbook," and his followers have grown dramatically this week.
Born in 1984 in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Fang started his campaign in November, sharing information on smog and knowhow to endure it.
"I'll soon have more than 20,000 followers. The number grows faster when smog descends," said Fang, adding that he gained 1,000 fans on Sunday alone.
"I barely break even running the account, but as an ordinary citizen living with smog, I have a responsibility to share information and knowledge," he said.
Jiang Chao, a psychology major at Peking University, on Sunday photographed a series of campus statues with masks placed over their faces, with the stunt grabbing much online attention. The student's original post on Sina Weibo has been retweeted more than 20,000 times.
"The overcast sky and continuing orange alert inspired me with this crazy idea," he said, explaining that the art was a bid to express people's anxiety and helplessness on the smog issue, as well as eagerness to change the status quo.
He also wanted to raise awareness on environmental protection.
A slew of policies have been carried out to combat the smog, including curbing industrial pollution and cutting vehicle emissions.
However, critics have alleged governments have failed to deal with the issue in a timely manner.
Li Gui, a resident of Shijiangzhuang City of north China's Hebei Province, one of the most polluted provinces in the country, decided to sue the local environmental protection bureau after choking since December.
Li said he decided to safeguard his rights when the local government imposed driving restrictions on heavily polluted days, seeing this as an unfair penalization of the general public.
"I want to show every citizen through my action that we are the victims of the pollution," said Li. "We are affected physically and economically, and we shouldn't be the ones to pay for all this." Li's case has not yet been accepted by the court.
Hebei's economy is dominated by highly polluting and energy-guzzling heavy industries. The local government shut down 8,347 factories in 2013, and has pledged to cut annual steel and cement production capacities by 60 million tonnes by 2017 and to reduce annual coal consumption by 40 million tonnes from 2012 levels.