Why is China destroying barbecues?

Air pollution is killing millions, and the government has responded by confiscating 500 illegal barbecues.

New Statesman
A street food seller in Sichuan. Photo: Getty.

In a move to combat smog in Beijing - where air pollution levels are often over 20 times the limit defined safe by the World Health Organisation – the Chinese government is cracking down on outdoor barbeques. AFP reports that over 500 have been confiscated by authorities, and illegal barbecue owners are being fined over $3,938, according to China Daily.

The government’s decision has been ridiculed on China’s social media. The move will put hundreds of street vendors out of business, many of whom are from the restive Uighur state, as Reuters notes. It also means that many Beijing residents won't be able to enjoy some of their much loved street food. But more than being unpopular, it's pretty ineffective as an anti-pollution intervention: outdoor barbecues don’t contribute anywhere near as much air pollution as vehicles or factory fumes.

The Chinese government is trying to limit pollution in other ways; cars with odd and even number plates are allowed to drive on alternate days, to try and clamp down on exhaust fumes. Around 1200 polluting factories are due to close, according to Beijing’s environmental bureau.

In the meantime, however, the residents of Beijing are slowly choking to death. According to a World Bank report in early 2013, an estimated 1.2 million people in China died prematurely due to air pollution alone. 500 fewer barbecues won’t change that.