SHANGHAI Hazardous air pollution forced schools to shut or suspend outdoor activities in at least two cities in eastern China, where residents complained of the yellow skies and foul smells that are symptomatic of the country's crippling smog crisis.
China's stability-obsessed leadership has become increasingly concerned by the abysmal air quality in cities, as it plays into popular resentment over political privilege and rising inequality in the world's second-largest economy.
In Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province, the sun was the color of "salted egg yolk" on Wednesday as the government raised the "red alert" for poor air quality for the first time, state-run news media reported.
The city saw levels of PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers, reach a reading of 354 on Wednesday, said Nanjing-based news portal news.longhoo.net.
Levels above 300 are considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization recommends a daily level of no more than 20.
Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong province, was also shrouded in smog as PM2.5 levels of over 300 were recorded, said Peninsula Metropolis Daily, a Qingdao newspaper.
Nanjing suspended classes in primary and secondary schools and Qingdao banned outdoor activities, said the official Xinhua news agency. Qingdao also banned the burning of leaves and rubbish and restricted the use of government vehicles, while Nanjing said it would strengthen control on industrial sources of pollutants.
Both cities predicted the severe pollution would continue, indicating the measures will not be lifted soon, said Xinhua.
Residents in both cities took to China's popular Twitter-like Weibo site to describe desolate streets and the apocalyptic environment. "The sky is pale yellow and the air is full of a choking smell," one user wrote.
The smog follows reports in October of pollution all but shutting down Harbin, one of northeastern China's largest cities. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters (33 feet).
(Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)