Statutes of founding leaders of the Communist Party of China and leading economists were masked at the prestigious Peking University as a mark of protest against pollution. (Photo courtesy: China Foto Press)
Perhaps it was a show of solidarity with commoners in times of near-apocalyptic smog in the Chinese capital, but President Xi Jinping's stroll through a touristy Beijing area on Tuesday brought a smile to many faces gloomy with pollution.
Severe smog for the sixth consecutive day did not prevent Xi from stepping out on the road like millions of others, albeit without a face mask, for a stroll through the lanes of Nanluogu Xiang with its bars, cafeterias and curio shops.
The locals and a handful of foreign tourists thronging the arty lanes of Nanluogo Xiang loved it.
Xi was mobbed by cell phone-holding tourists, some of them trying their best to get his attention.
Xi and other Communist Party of China (CPC) officials, including the Beijing chief, stopped to chat with pedestrians and visited families staying in the city's signature old-styled courtyard, or hutong, homes.
Though the spontaneity of Xi's walk could be questioned with some reports saying television crews were strategically placed and waiting, what could not be doubted was that the President inhaled the murky, polluted air just like other residents.
Photos of his walk were splashed across China's Twitter-like Weibo services, besides making it to state media portals with surprising speed.
State media quoted a number of Weibo users gushing about Xi's walk, dressed in his trademark black long jacket and trousers.
But Xi knows that a Presidential walk outdoors is not enough to tackle the pollution that's been hanging over large swathes of China for the past six days – for that, his government needs to employ more conventional methods.
At least 147 industrial companies have cut or suspended production as of Tuesday as part of the city's measures to reduce pollution emissions, said the state media, adding that authorities have also tried to restrict vehicular traffic on roads.
Reports said 980,000 square km of central and eastern China are under the smog cover, with some 800,000 square km of it heavily polluted – including in Beijing and the provinces of Hebei, Shanxi and Liaoning.
"From Tuesday to Wednesday, moderate smog will shroud Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi and Liaoning, where weather conditions will not be favorable for the dispersion of pollutants. Some of those regions will see heavy smog," said a grim statement from the National Meteorological Centre.
A report in the official Xinhua news agency said, "At the air monitoring spot in the National Agricultural Exhibition Center in Beijing, PM2.5 readings topped 400 at 2am and surged to 444 at 4am on Tuesday."
However, the official readings were lower than that of Beijing's air pollution index monitored and released by the US embassy in Beijing.