“Even Mao is wearing a mask” in smog-choked China
Chinese citizens flock online to poke fun at the pollution situation, which in recent days has hit a quarter of the entire country. Smog-free days "on February 29 , 30 and 31" and other “motivational" jibes at President Xi Jinping. But the problem is increasingly serious and experts warn: "Without a solution the entire agricultural sector is at risk".

Beijing ( AsiaNews) - The blanket of pollution that has covered China these days has reached an area equal to one quarter of the entire mainland, causing damage "of enormous gravity" to public health and national agriculture . In response to the emergency, some internet users have chosen the weapon of irony: the image of the famous portrait of Mao Zedong that stands in Tiananmen Square - but with half-closed eyes and a mask over his mouth (see photo) - has gone viral on national social networks. Other citizens have announced "with joy" that the government has solved the problem: "Beijing has granted three days free of smog. On February 29 , 30 and 31".

Yesterday in Beijing the level of pollutant air particles was recorded by the U.S. Embassy at 457. According to the World Health Organization normal values ​​should be around 50, and the scientific journal The Lancet has determined that each year in China there are 1.2 million premature deaths due to air pollution. To try to boost the morale of the population, the President Xi Jinping visited a popular district of Beijing yesterday without anti-smog mask.

Internet users responded with irony: "My friend ran into Xi Jinping at the tourist area today, and he was fortunate enough to get a photo taken with [Xi]. And the Beijing mayor who was also there," went one joke. But the attached photo showed only a thick layer of smog, without any humans visible. Not even the formal government diktats were spared. Citing a recent statement  by the President - "Make socialist core values as pervasive as the air." Chinese netizens quipped: "Also as toxic?".

However, jokes aside, the situation is judged to be "very serious": the increase in rampant pollution poses a serious risk even national agriculture and therefore food resources. He Dongxia, associate professor of Water Resources and Civil Engineering at the Chinese University of Agriculture, conducted an experiment in the capital that shows how the process of photosynthesis - which allows plants to grow and mature - has suffered "a drastic slowdown" nationwide. According to the professor this slowdown affects the whole agricultural sector, which accounts for 10% of gross domestic product. The worst damage occurs in winter and spring, when the prices of agricultural products tend to rise.

Studying the effect of pollution on plants of tomatoes and chili peppers, Professor He showed how the normal maturation process of these plants (around 20 days) was extended to more than two months. The cause of this phenomenon "are membranes and contaminants that settle on the surface of plants and drastically reduce the absorption of sunlight necessary for their natural growth process".

Working in a greenhouse in Beijing - exposed to the usual climate of the capital - the Professor has noticed how most of the plants become sick or weak. They would be lucky just to survive, let alone produce fruit or vegetables. If the smog persists or worsens, the food resources of the nation will suffer devastating consequences. The emergency concerns all of China: many representatives of agricultural companies suddenly started attending our meetings, because they are so desperate for a solution to the problem".