Sixty years ago, Mexico City was a sleepy village of 3 million people and its air was crystal clear. Thirty years ago, Beijing and Guangzhou were hot, but the air was reasonably clean. Not any more.
Commentaries by two of the mainland's most influential news outlets suggesting an ongoing air pollution crisis was not without a silver lining drew a withering reaction yesterday from internet users and other media.
In online commentaries on Monday, CCTV and the tabloid Global Times, published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, both tried to put a positive spin on the mainland's smog problem.
The Global Times said smog could be useful in military situations, as it could hinder the use of guided missiles, while CCTV listed five "unforeseen rewards" for smog, including helping Chinese people's sense of humour.
While both pieces have since been deleted from their websites, newspapers lost little time in denouncing their point of view, in an unusual case of state media criticising other state media, showing the scale of the anger.
"Is the smog supposed to lift if we laugh about it?" wrote the Beijing Business Today, published by the city government's official Beijing Daily. "Smog affects our breathing. We hope it does not affect our thinking."
The Dongguan Times said CCTV's comments were so bizarre people did not know "whether to laugh or cry".
"There's nothing funny about the health dangers of smog," it wrote.
Even Xinhua - which initially picked up CCTV's commentary - weighed in, writing on one of its official microblogs late on Monday it was "totally inappropriate" to make fun of air pollution.
Air quality in cities is of increasing concern to China's stability-obsessed leaders, anxious to douse potential unrest as a more affluent urban population turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has poisoned much of the country's air, water and soil.
Large parts of the eastern mainland, including the country's prosperous and cosmopolitan commercial capital Shanghai, have been covered in a thick pall of smog over the past week or so, though Beijing's normally filthy air has been relatively clear.Lest you think this is purely a problem of Chinese totalitarians, when the Eisenhower administration was setting off nuclear tests in the atmosphere, the Atomic Energy Commission tried to persuade the US media to report fallout radiation in "sunshine units." We didn't think it was funny either.