Breath of fresh air for leaders
Many may have wondered how top Communist Party leaders cope with the dense smog that frequently chokes the capital, with air quality recently plunging to the worst levels since before the 2008 Olympics.
The answer turns out to be simple: mainland leaders, keenly aware of the health hazards of air pollution, have been enjoying a special supply of clean air for years.
While it is no secret that the top officials and senior cadres have had the privileges of using tegong, special supplies of all sorts of things, from food to cigarettes, stationery and electronic appliances for decades, it is the first time secrets about the air quality in prestigious government buildings have been made public.
The revelation, by a mainland manufacturer of air purifiers, has fuelled bitterness and resentment among Beijingers, increasingly frustrated about the almost unbearable dirty air and the lack of progress in the hugely expensive government-led campaign to clean up pollution.
According to the Broad Group, a Hunan-based air-conditioner maker, at least 200 air purifiers are installed inside Zhongnanhai, the top leadership compound where President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders work and live.
'They are everywhere in Zhongnanhai, from living rooms and meeting rooms to swimming pools and gyms,' the website of one of the company's Beijing dealers said. 'It is a blessing for the people that our purifiers have created a healthy and clean environment for state leaders.'
Top leaders began to use Broad's air purifiers in Zhongnanhai from December 2008, just three months after the Olympics.
The webpage also explains in detail how leaders were convinced of the necessity of using air purifiers when they saw proof of Beijing's filth - 'ink-coloured dirty water' from dust and pollution-covered filters - at the end of a test in a meeting room used by Politburo Standing Committee members.
Air purifiers have not only made their way into Hu's office, the Great Hall of the People, the Diaoyutai State Guest House and many other government buildings. They have also become an essential luggage item whenever state leaders travel outside the compound, according to Qi Zhiwang, a Beijing-based sales manager of the equipment. Qi said air purifiers had also become a popular gift for a long list of foreign leaders and dignitaries, including Bill Gates, Tony Blair and Ban Ki-moon.
Long Yongtu, former secretary general of the Boao Forum for Asia and chief negotiator for China's accession to the World Trade Organisation, said in a video clip posted on the company's website that he carried a portable purifier wherever he travelled on the mainland. 'Air pollution has become so bad that I have to use the purifier in my car and even hotel rooms,' he said.
Beijingers have voiced outrage at the leaders' failure to curb pollution while finding their own solution to the city's persistent smog. 'No wonder they don't care about food safety and air quality, while the grass roots are drinking melamine-tainted milk, eating gutter cooking oil and breathing deeply polluted air,' remarked a microblogger on Sina Weibo.
Professor Zhou Xiaozheng, of Renmin University, agreed. 'Thanks to the over-concentration of power and one-party rule, the special privileges enjoyed by special-interest groups have become the root cause of China's political, social and environmental woes,' he said.
Listed as one of the dirtiest major capital cities in the world by the World Health Organisation, Beijing has been hit by thick, choking smog for most of the past month.