After three months of surveillance, over 500 illegal outdoor barbecues have been seized and broken up and fines of as much as 5,000 yuan (USD815/GBP498/EUR600) issued in the course of a crackdown on barbecues in Beijing after Chinese state media claimed that they cause “serious air pollution.” Photographers were on-hand to record workers cutting the barbecues into pieces.
Most of the barbecues were used by people of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority who hail from the western Xinjiang province, where there is tension between Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese. The crackdown on barbecues will put hundreds of street vendors of food, often Uighur, out of business, to the displeasure of many residents of Beijing, who relished the mutton dusted with chilli pepper and cumin that roasted on streetside grilles.
Why it happened
Pollution in China frequently reaches hazardous levels which the World Bank reported cause the premature death of an estimated 1.2 million people in the country every year. Lung cancer rates are rising and sperm quality is falling . Air pollution in Beijing can be more than 20 times the limit deemed safe by the World Health Organisation, and last year smog was so bad it was described as an “airpocalypse.”
The government has instituted emergency measures to reduce pollution, including limiting the number of new vehicles permitted on the roads, the withholding of planning permission for new industrial facilities and closure of thousands of existing facilities in the worst-affected areas and curtailing funding for companies that infringe environmental laws.
The government evidently felt the time was ripe for a crackdown on barbecues.
Why pollution matters
Pollution provides a focus for anti-government sentiment and was cited by a leading member of the Communist Party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs as the principal cause of social unrest in the country. The citizenry ridiculed the crackdown on barbecues as they aren’t the largest source of pollution. Vince Wagner, a senior researcher for the International Council on Clean Transportation, declared, “I can’t believe that it’s actually a source that they need to worry about as compared with the enormous pollution that comes from motor vehicles, coal-fired power plants and big industrial factories.” He added that singling out street vendors and consumers was unfair as it diverted attention from “the real culprits.” He further lamented that outdoor barbecues were “a wonderful part of Beijing.”
The impact of 500 fewer barbecues
Compared to motor vehicle emissions and factories, 500 fewer barbecues will have no great effect on Chinese sperm quality. There will, however, be support for a crackdown on barbecues from residents living nearby who have often complained of the smoke and odour to which they were subjected. And while there has been extensive brouhaha in Europe over horsemeat mislabelled as beef, China trumped that with street food that was rat meat passed off as mutton and beef. In one case in the eastern city of Wuxi, miscreants made 10 million yuan (USD1.63/GBP1/EUR1.2 million) in this manner.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”