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China's Pollution Police Are Watching

Cities across China are trying to force the worst-polluting cars and trucks onto the scrap heap
China's Pollution Police Are Watching
Photo illustration by 731; Photograph by Mark Anderson/Aurora Photos/Corbis

At 7 a.m. on a recent March morning, Xu Xiaoshun hops behind the wheel and turns the key. His Chang’an Leopard truck puffs out some black smoke and shivers to life as Xu begins his daily gamble. Every morning, including weekends, he leaves the one-room apartment he shares with his wife, drives almost 10 kilometers (six miles) to a market, picks up construction materials, and delivers them to job sites in and around Hangzhou, a city of 8.8 million. Often, his route takes him through areas of the city where his truck is banned because of its dirty emissions. “This truck isn’t allowed on some roads,” Xu says as he steps on the gas. “But when an order comes, I must take a risk.”

As air pollution in China becomes a national crisis—only three of the 74 cities monitored last year had acceptable air quality, according to a March report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection—Hangzhou and other cities have declared war on dirty cars and trucks. High-emission vehicles such as Xu’s must display yellow stickers on their windshields. (Cleaner cars are marked with green ones.) In Hangzhou, yellow-tagged cars and trucks are banned from the city’s main areas from 6 a.m. to midnight.