Eli Bildner senior contributor

Interactive Maps of China’s Most–and Least–Polluted Places

Nearly five weeks ago, Beijing experienced its worst day of air quality on record: Levels of PM2.5 — small particulates that can cause lung, cardiovascular and respiratory disease — soared to more than 30 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.

Air Quality in China — A Snapshot

Map of air quality in China
View a larger version of the map.

Since then, reporting on China’s “airpocalypse” has been accompanied by what seems like a monochromatic slideshow of the country’s iconic cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin —all smothered in thick smog.

Indeed, China’s most populous and prosperous cities are among the epicenters of this latest pollution crisis. In Tianjin, for instance, levels of PM2.5 hit 577 on February 9, the eve of the Chinese New Year. In Beijing, sales of New Years’ fireworks dropped 37% after the municipal government asked residents to limit their use.

But air quality in China is also a nationwide problem — a predicament that affects cities with far less name recognition than Beijing or a Shanghai. Last week, the People’s Daily reported that of the 74 key cities monitored by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, all 74 reported “excessive” PM2.5 concentrations on February 10, the first day of the Chinese New Year.

And as a glance at pollution figures from this morning shows, hazardous air conditions remain in cities throughout China, from Urumqi (with a PM2.5 concentration of 511 micrograms per cubic meter, or 20 times the recommended limit) to Guangzhou.


China’s Most Polluted Cities

View China’s Most Polluted Cities in a larger map.

1. Xingtai, Hebei
2. Shijiazhuang, Hebei
3. Baoding, Hebei
4. Handan, Hebei
5. Langfang, Hebei
6. Hengshui, Hebei
7. Jinan, Shandong
8. Tangshan, Hebei
9. Beijing
10. Zhengzhou, Henan


China’s Least Polluted Cities

View China’s Least Polluted Cities in a larger map.

1. Haikuo, Hainan
2. Fuzhou, Fujian
3. Zhoushan, Zhejiang
4.X iamen, Fujian
5. Huizhou, Gunagdong
6. Zhaoqing, Guangdong
7. Shenzhen, Guangdong
8. Kunming, Yunnan
9. Lhasa, Tibet
10. Zhuhai, Guangdong


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Eli Bildner

Since moving to China after graduating from college, Eli Bildner has lived in Yunnan, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. You can read more of his essays and poetry at www.elibildner.com.
  • Ululu

    Why Haikou is most unpolluted city but in the first picture it is shown with yellow dot?

    • http://twitter.com/elibildner Eli Bildner

      See reply above. Haikou happened to have a PM2.5 reading of 52 (or “moderate” air pollution) at 9:35 a.m. on 2/20. Average concentrations over the month of January, however, were the lowest in the country.

  • jaozi

    Could you explain a little of the methodology used for the “most-polluted” and “least-polluted” lists? Where does that data come from, over what period of time, using what measurements, etc. Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/elibildner Eli Bildner

      A good question, and not made sufficiently clear above. Earlier this month, the Chinese environmental ministry announced that it will begin releasing monthly rankings of the 10 cities with the most and least particulate pollution (PM2.5). The most and least lists here are from the January ranking — it’s expected that these will, to a degree, vary from month to month.

      • Alex

        I spent 5 years in shenzhen and it’s way more polluted than Hangzhou where I live now. When was the report taken? Over how long of a time period? Sure some cities aren’t polluted after a typhoon……

      • jaozi

        Thanks, Eli! Appreciate the response.

  • Alex

    Living in Xingtai myself, I can safely say it thoroughly deserves the top spot.I can also safely say I would like to live past 50, and so will probably be leaving next year based on these results..

  • idims

    So the opening image is just a one-day snapshot from Feb. 20? I wish that were made more clear in the article. Is there a way for people to have access to daily data such as this instead of waiting a month for the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection to release its rankings?

    Also, I am frankly amazed that any of the cities around the Pearl River Delta — Shenzhen, Zhuhai, etc. — are ranked high in cleanliness. As your opening image shows, Guangzhou itself has poor air quality numbers, and Hong Kong’s air pollution has gotten some news coverage itself (less than Beijing’s, of course).

  • code red

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  • Xiaoyi

    Do you have data for other world regions? It would be interesting to compare with the US or Europe to gain a grasp of what the figures represent. Or with other BRIC countries too.

  • susan

    Hi. Do you think all the new regulations for pollution control in china are serious? Or is this mostly PR?

    On another note, we were supposed to spend our sabbatical next fall in
    Beijing. Reading the stories on the bad air makes me wonder if we should
    cancel, particularly since our son will be along. Are there cities you
    would recommend i.e. good air, interesting city, preferably with a
    university?? that is, go to china but to a city cleaner than beijing.

    thanks for your thoughts.

  • Matt

    I’m a little confused by the information in the maps. In the third map, Kunming is shown as one of the least polluted cities, but in the first map it belongs to the third category of pollution level, while plenty of other cities are shown as less polluted, yet don’t show up in the third map. What’s the explanation for this? Are the first map and second and third map based on different sets of data?

  • Candy Smith

    I guess this result will help in determining the most convenient place to build a home. I am glad you shared this data. Thanks a lot for sharing.