Shanghai eye operation joke shows pollution is really no laughing matter

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 7:22am

Did you hear the one about the Shanghai doctor who performed a successful cataract operation and wanted to show his patient the city's skyline out of his office window? Instead of thanking the doctor for his new eyesight, the patient began shouting at the doctor for botching the job.

You don't have to live and breathe the air in Shanghai to get this joke - which opened a December 9 opinion column written by Post editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei. The article received 172,295 views on after it was voted into No2 spot on Reddit - the social news and entertainment website billed as "the front page of the internet".

As Shanghai and more than 100 other major mainland cities were enveloped in the choking, hazardous smog in the first week of December, dozens of similar jokes were flying around the country's social media.

But it was no laughing matter. Visibility in some eastern cities was reduced to less than 50 metres and to less than five metres in the worst-hit places, where PM2.5 concentrations hit 500 micrograms per cubic metre. The World Health Organisation's recommended level for the pollutant is 25mcg per cubic metre.

The article didn't just focus on the hazards of air pollution. More than 70 per cent of the country's rivers and lakes are deemed unfit even for animals to drink and much of the country's underground water was also equally polluted, wrote Wang.

"It is time that the mainland leadership learnt from those lessons and takes steps to introduce China's own Clean Air Act," he said.

The next day, December 10, the Post reported that a state-sponsored newspaper, the Global Times, tried to put a positive spin on China's smog, saying it could help the country's military defence strategy. Smog, it argued, could thwart missile attacks and hamper hostile reconnaissance.

Mainland internet users were unimpressed. One reader who commented on the article said: "Enemies wouldn't need to resort to missile attacks if the smog continues to increase - people will simply be poisoned to death."