Beijing air pollution

New Chinese name for particulate-ly deadly smog

PM2.5 pollution now has an official Chinese name that literally translates as 'fine particulate matter'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 5:11am

PM2.5 now has an official Chinese name, xikeliwu, that literally translates as "fine particulate matter" after extensive debate among meteorologists, linguists and environmental experts, mainland media reported yesterday.

But many mainlanders, frustrated by chronic smog, have come up with sarcastic nicknames including "GDP particles", "Happiness index" and "Dust with Chinese characteristics" to ridicule the authorities' quick response in naming the pollutant, in contrast to their slow response in actually cleaning it up.

About 98 per cent of mainland media reports used "PM2.5" when referring to particles smaller than 2.5 microns which cause haze and pose the biggest health risks, Liu Qing , a deputy director at the National Committee for Terms in Sciences and Technologies, told the Legal Daily yesterday. But many readers did not really understand what the term meant, he said, making it necessary to give it an official Chinese name.

The move was also in line with a ban on foreign language abbreviations in official newscasts designed to maintain the purity of the Chinese language, he said.

At a conference for finding a Chinese name for PM2.5, attended by top mainland environmental academics, "fine particulate matter" beat other proposals including "tiny floating dust" and "smog dust" because of its accuracy, Liu said.

However, the name met with strong criticism online.

One blogger said: "Apparently the authorities attempt to relieve public panic about air pollution by giving a Chinese name that mentions nothing about its hazardous impact, so that they'd face less pressure."

Even Xinhua blasted the eagerness to give PM2.5 a Chinese name: "The move is rather inappropriate at a time when smog is so severe, while so little has been done by the authorities. Is it a way of shirking from responsibilities?

"Does it really matter what the pollutant is called when the public have no place to hide and have to breathe the toxic air?"