At 950 micrograms per cubic meter, the PM2.5 level in Tongzhou, Beijing on January 13, 2013 is by far the highest figure ever recorded and reported. The number is as unthinkable to those who understand it as the news exposure of it to those who live in China.

PM2.5 measures airborne particulates of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. It is considered safe at 25 micrograms by the World Health Organization. Over the past few days, the PM2.5 readings in Beijing stayed dangerously high at 10 to 30 times more than the safe level, with Tongzhou’s reading topping the chart (ifeng News). According to Xinhua News, Tongzhou also had the highest concentration of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide among all of the districts in Beijing in 2011.

These grim facts are a blow to Tongzhou’s reputation because it is billed as Bejing Culture and Tourism City, ready to meet and greet visitors as soon as 2014. An ambitious urban development plan has been drawn for it. Wanda Group, which acquired AMC Entertainment at $2.6 billion last September, won two consecutive bids for two plots of land in Tongzhou in November 2012. It thrashed Baoli Group, a higher bidder at the land aution and also a Chinese conglomerate with a core business in real estate, because the government favored Wanda’s entertainment and cultural tourism arms. The parcels were acquired at RMB3.3 billion ($530 million) with a gross floor area of 400,000 square meters (4.3 million square feet); they are part of the 90-hectare (222-acre) Culture and Tourism City, which has a total building area of 1.2 million square meters.

A man flies a kite near electricity pylons on a hazy day in Beijing Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. Pic: AP.

Last year, concerns over PM2.5 levels in China reached an all-time high. Although the Chinese government tried to exert tight control over the circulation of such information, for example, it openly criticized the U.S. Embassy in China for self-reporting pollution data in the capital, their plan backfired. More people paid close attention to daily reports on air pollutants in their cities, and the air quality monitor put up by the U.S. Embassy’s website in China received more traffic than ever.