Located in east Shanxi Province, Changzhi is a heavy industry city, churning out coal, coke, steel and thermal power. In 2004, the city was blacklisted by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) as one of "the nation's 113 environmental monitoring cities", due to its heavy pollution.
But the same year, it was named one of the 10 most charming cities in China.
It was described as "an energetic city fully covered with green growth", during the award ceremony.
A teacher surnamed Zhang who has been living in Changzhi for 47 years, does not agree. According to Zhang, Changzhi has a long-standing pollution problem.
"In only half a day in Changzhi, your shirt could get too dirty to wear," he says. The city's pollution is made up of flying sand and dust caused by heavy industry.
But being blacklisted as one of the nation's 113 environmental monitoring cities has compelled the local government to act, says Sun Yimin, department chief of Changzhi's Bureau of Parks and Forest.
The list of "Top 10 Charming Cities in China", selected by CCTV News Center, is considered a commercial, Sun explains. "It is not a big prize, considered a 'facial project' to promote Changzhi's reputation," he adds.
In January 2006, Changzhi was named by the Ministry of Construction as a National Garden City. Six months later, the Office of the National Patriotic Health Campaign Committee named it a National Clean City.
According to records used for judging the honors, Changzhi's green areas cover 44.8 percent of the city, nearly 10 percentage points higher than the standard requirement.
Local officials say the evaluation only covered one district that accounts for just an eighth of the Changzhi city area.
"At present, many selection activities only focus on one district in the region, which cannot fully demonstrate the whole region's environmental performance," says a researcher from a local social sciences researching center who preferred to be anonymous.
Changzhi's water, for example, does not pass quality standards. But when the National Clean City project was evaluated in Changzhi, it was between summer and autumn when water quality is usually much better.
But these titles turn out to be an illusion. Visitors to Changzhi find a city consumed by flying dust and sand.
"Changzhi is much cleaner than before, but if you walk around the suburbs, you will see how heavily polluted it is," says a local resident surnamed Wei.
More still needs to be done by the local government to fight Changzhi's pollution problem.
In fact, since 1999 Changzhi's local government has realized that the environmental pollution problem has deteriorated and spread to the downtown core. As a solution, it moved heavily polluting plants to the outskirts of the city and has increased downtown green coverage.
Despite the progress, difficulty remains: Heavy industry still contributes more than half of the city's GDP, some 57.8 percent in 2006, according to the Changzhi Bureau of Statistics.
(China Daily January 7, 2008)