We had a beautiful blue sky day in Beijing on our first day! It is likely we benefited from the recent Communist Party meeting that was held here this week, which only happens every five years. Today are cute guide, Ivy told us about the AIPAC Conference Beijing hosted a few years ago and Beijing’s pollution problem. Many heads of state including then President Obama planned to attend. Consequently, the communist government was worried about the impression Beijing’s air quality would make on the world. Months before the conference, the party leaders began to make a plan to get rid of the pollution in Beijing for that week. Ivy said part of that plan included limiting the number of cars allowed on the road beginning one month before of the conference through its conclusion. Normally, cars are already limited Monday through Friday in Beijing by restricting car owners to driving only four days per week. (The day of the week is determined by the last digit of the car’s license plate). In the plan leading up to AIPAC, car usage was further restricted, allowing only half of the cars in Beijing on the roads every day. This rule was strictly enforced by taking 3 points from drivers who violated the law. (As part of the privilege of owning a car in China all drivers are given 12 points per car each year. A driver who loses 12 points will not be allowed to renew the annual license). This means it would only take 4 infractions to lose a license the following year.
In addition the plan stated two weeks before the conference all workers (both government and private sector employees) in Beijing were given a two week paid vacation mandated by law. People were also encouraged to leave town to visit relatives in other parts of China.
The plan worked. The pollution cleared up and bright blue skies greeted the world’s dignitaries and heads of state. Ivy told us she was leading a tour group during the week of conference. She said she had never seen such a blue sky in her whole life. She laughed as she told us about the posts on WeChat (China’s version of Facebook) about the government induced blue skies. She said many said the government can make blue skies. 🙂 “AIPAC blue” became a widely used term to mean something artificially induced or faked. For example people say things like, “He’s not that into you, he’s just AIPAC blue.” Our whole group roared with laughter as she regaled us with these stories!
Many of us were also surprised to know that citizens felt free enough to post such things on a public forum. I know there have been many reforms in China, but I can still remember Tiananmen Square and those poor students who died fighting for free speech.
Further learning about the changes in China we visited the home of man who lives in a Hutong house near the Drum Tower today. He shared with us today how much things have changed since the 1980s. He talked about how before the change everything his bought was rationed. From food to clothes to electronics he was limited by what the government said he could by. Even simple things like vegetables. He only ate cabbage and rutabagas because he was allowed to get with his ration coupons.
This man’s home has been in his family for over 100 years. He estimates his home is worth $3 million because of the size and location. He has chosen to stay here even though he has no private bathroom. It is convenient, his family home and the family’s investment. It is hard to imagine living like that, but it is also hard to imagine living without a bathroom even if the home is convenient and worth a ton!
Tomorrow we see the wall. We can’t wait. I will post pictures tomorrow. If you enjoy reading my blog please like it, like it on Facebook and follow me. Russell is blogging too. You can read his here.