The Smog Society by Chen Qiufan

The short story “The Smog Society” by Chen Qiufan was published for the first time in 2010.

Lao Sun is a retired man who collaborates with what’s commonly called “The Smog Society”, an environmental non-governmental organization that among other things takes car of collecting data on the city’s smog. The analysis of the data collected leads to the conclusion that there’s a correlation between smog and the inhabitants’ happiness but the terms of that correlation are surprising.

The spread of cars in China caused a progressive increase in smog in big cities during this early 21st century, to the point that Beijing has become known for its thick smog cover. Chen Qiufan tried to explore this theme from a science fiction point of view by imagining that the issue is more complex than what we can imagine.

The beginning worthy of a cyberpunk story features the protagonist Lao Sun, as he goes to do one of his environmental surveys on behalf of the smog society. Slowly, the author provides information obout Lao Sun’s past, which allows him to explore the theme of the correlation between smog in the cities and the inhabitants’ happiness. He’s a common man and one of many volunteers but his story is important to understand life in a city dominated by smog and develop the central theme through the protagonist’s life. They also represent the state of interpersonal relationships in that environment.

Lao Sun remembers the past time when there was no smog to envelop the city, the time when he lived with his wife. This is not a man who’s thinking about the alleged good old days based on imperfect memories because the protagonist’s present is in a city full of smog and without his wife. The two things seem completely unrelated but what happened to him seems to confirm the theorized correlation.

“The Smog Society” has an ending between bitterness and hope that surprised me in a story published by a Chinese author because it stresses the importance of an individual’s actions. It’s precisely for this reason that it seems interesting to me thinking about the influence of human beings on the environment. It’s also available within the anthology “Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction”.

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