Late last week, a story surfaced on several sites that the pollution in Beijing was so bad, the sunset had to be broadcast on a huge LED screen so people could watch it. You can see the image directly above. The story, however, is disingenuous.
Yes, the pollution in Beijing is bad. It's a serious problem. And last week, the air quality hit, as The New York Times reports, "dangerous levels."
Yes, a sunrise was broadcast on the Tiananmen Big Screens (天安门大屏), which are located near the Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. But it was, as website TechInAsia pointed out, part of a tourism ad for China's Shandong province. It wasn't because of the pollution.
Saying that would be somewhat like claiming that in this photo, people look at the night skyline on the screen because there is no night skyline in Beijing.
It's a logical fallacy.
In the lower corner, you can see the Shandong tourism commission's "Friendly Shandong" logo. The ad, as numerous mainstream media outlets reported, was not because of the bad air quality.
The sunset was a short, several second bit that was part of a larger travel montage. Stating that the sunrise was appearing on the big screen or people were watching the sunset because the air was so bad is simply not true. TechInAsia calls it "complete bullshit."
This is another photo taken on that same day. Note the Shandong tourism logo:
The Tiananmen Big Screens aren't new. As website Greg.org points out, they were installed back in 2009 to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China and typically broadcast military propaganda, slogans, and travel spots — no matter if the weather is sunny and clear or hazy and cold.
Here are other examples of things played on the Big Screens:
The Friendly Shandong commercial did create a compelling contrast, which was noted on China's Sina Weibo social networking site. But that's really what this is: a contrast. It's a contrast we've seen before when similar travel ads were running during smoggy days. Below's a still from January 2013 that features just that:
And it's probably a contrast that we will see again.