Weibo, China’s Twitter, is widely recognized for driving Chinese social reform in its home country. The site is the focus of a new book by the former Google China President Kai-fu Lee entitled Micro-blog: Changing the World. Many opinion leaders on Weibo use the site to bring an issue into the national conversation, as writer Xue Manzi did with the issue of small particle pollution (PM 2.5) monitoring.
At the end of 2011, the visibly deteriorating air quality in Beijing started to concern Beijing residents. Consequently, one Apple app called “Beijing Air Quality (Data from US Embassy)” started to get frequently quoted and tweeted by celebrities and opinion leaders on Weibo.
This app uses data from the US Embassy in Chao Yang District in Beijing. One day in late 2011, the app showed that the quality of the air in Beijing Chao Yang District was so bad that that it was “Beyond Index”.
The US Embassy in Beijing said that they did not have any connection with this app developer; they provided Beijing air quality data to inform embassy employees and Americans in Beijing. The US Embassy also mentioned that the Beijing Municipal Environment Monitoring Center measures PM 10 (air pollutants with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less) while the US Embassy measures PM 2.5 (air pollutants with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less). PM2.5 particles are small enough to invade even the smallest airways.
The notion of PM 2.5 has continued to build momentum on Weibo, and local and federal Chinese officials took notice.
Soon after, the Shanghai Municipal Environment Monitoring Center started to disclose current and historical levels of PM2.5. By early 2012, the State Council passed revised air quality standards which include an index for PM 2.5. PM 2.5 was also included in Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s 2012 Government Work Report on March 5th based on China Daily. Wen’s report said that China would be “controlling air pollution by monitoring PM2.5 fine particulate matter in major metropolitan areas starting now, and then expanding the monitoring to cities at the prefectural level by 2015.”