BEIJING, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Despite China's ambitions and efforts to build itself into a beautiful country, residents and travellers in Beijing have been subjected to excessively bad air quality in recent days.
For three consecutive days up to Sunday, Beijing was choked in dense smog. The municipal environmental authorities said air pollution in the capital hit dangerous levels: readings for PM2.5, airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, reached more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter at some monitoring stations, and as high as 993at others, on Saturday evening.
The problem was not limited to Beijing -- the haze also spread to regions surrounding the city and some parts of northern, eastern and central China, forming a "pollutant belt" shrouding much of the entire country.
Some citizens joked that the smoggy weather provided a "romantic" atmosphere where "I can surely feel you, but can not see you."
But people can not sincerely be happy about such "breath-taking" phenomena, as health experts have warned that the polluted air will cause increased risks of respiratory and cardiovascular troubles.
Also in jeopardy are the efforts of the Communist Party of China and government authorities to advance ecological progress and their new promise to build a "beautiful China."
A country with a brown sky and hazardous air is obviously not beautiful.
Experts believe that in addition to unfavorable weather conditions, the roots of the smog are industrial emissions, vehicle exhausts and dust from construction sites.
In 2011, China announced that it has met its major air and water pollution control targets for the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) and set even more ambitious reduction goals for the following five years.
However, the prolonged smog these past days indicates that as China's industrialization and urbanization is stepping forward, the environmental situation facing the country will be increasingly challenging and counter-pollution control work will be arduous and require more vigorous, effective and scientific measures.
There is no reason to be too optimistic.
In addition to policies to curb the pollution sources, the bleak weather also tested the government's emergency response capabilities.
Beijing issued the city's first orange fog warning -- the second most severe level in China's four-tier color-coded weather warning system -- on Sunday morning due to decreased visibility. Similar measures were also launched in other cities.
However, some media reports claimed that most primary and secondary schools in Beijing were not informed by authorities to stop students' outdoor activities, as is suggested in the emergency plan for serious pollution.
It should also be noted that curbing pollution and protecting the environment are not the government's exclusive obligations. Citizens ought to do their share, through approaches such as more frequent use of public transport.
The weekend smog in Beijing is reminiscent of the Great Smog of London in 1952, which was believed to have resulted in the premature deaths of at least 4,000 people, a heavy cost for prosperity in the industrialization progress.
But London is no longer the "city of fog," thanks to enhanced governmental regulations and public awareness.
China should learn from its experiences, but avoid duplicating its failure.