Beijing smog fails to obscure 'apocalypse' humor

BEIJING (Reuters) - Several days of brown haze in Beijing so thick it has closed highways suspended construction and brought official warnings to stay indoors have also prompted jokes about the end of the world. Some of the Chinese capital's 22.5 million residents have turned to gallows humor to cope with persistent toxic air that again soared above hazardous levels on Tuesday, even as an Paris climate talks continued half a world away. A joke circulating among Chinese journalists told of a reporter approaching an old woman on the street to ask about the impact of the smog. "The impact is huge," the interviewee replies. "First of all, I'm your uncle." Some users of China's popular Weibo microblog traced the shapes of famous Beijing landmarks on to photographs in which the buildings were nearly completely obscured by the smog and posted them online. One said living in Beijing was like working as crew on a zombie apocalypse movie. "As a friend finished eating lunch he slapped on his face mask and said he had to return to the set. They were filming Resident Evil in the afternoon," one microblogger joked, invoking the horror film series. "Pray for Beijing" had become a meme on China's mobile messaging platform WeChat. The U.S. Embassy's air quality monitor rated Beijing's smog as beyond the index for much of Tuesday, a level above the 301-500 band considered hazardous to health. China's Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Sunday that the recent period of smog was due to "unfavorable" weather. The hazardous air underscores the challenge facing China's government as it battles pollution caused by the coal-burning power industry, and will raise questions about its ability to clean up its economy at the talks in Paris. Chinese researchers have identified pollution as a major source of unrest around China and much of the online discussion about the smog was serious. Environmental group Greenpeace said on its official Wechat account that air samples showed that Beijing's air contained heavy metals, including arsenic levels concentrated three times higher than national standards. (Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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