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Airborne: Pollution, Climate Change, and Visions of Sustainability in China (completed)

How did people’s experiences and fears of air pollution transform into new visions of sustainability and creative forms of action?

Facemasks on a male statue.

In 2013, people concerned with air pollution provided statues in Beijing University with face masks. Photo: Weibo.

Photo: Weibo


About the project

Airborne studied human dimensions of air pollution in China in a historical perspective.

Airborne started from the assumption that people’s experiences and imaginaries of the impact of air pollution are in the process of transforming into entirely new visions of sustainability and creative forms of action in China, the world’s largest energy consuming state.

We explored how political authorities, industry, scientists, population and media interaedct in responding to the inseparable risks of air pollution in China and global climate change.

Case studies

Airborne was organized in three interdisciplinary cases where sub-studies were carried out in smaller research teams with scholars from the disciplines of anthropology, political science, chemistry, media science, and sinology. 

The Interface between Air Pollution Science and People

This case explored Chinese medie discourses and education of air pollution in a historical perspective.

China's Air Pollution Control Policy Goes Local

This case investigated how China’s newly launched and highly prioritised 'PM2.5 air pollution prevention' policy was implemented locally.

The Class and Gender of Individual Air Pollution Exposure

This case explored if and how gender and social class determine critical differences in levels of exposure to air pollutants, and in people’s ways of making sense of and reacting to pollution.



The project has conducted a historically grounded and future-oriented study into how popular experiences and scientifically produced knowledge of air pollution and climate change lead to new and creative mitigation policies and expectations of sustainable lifestyles in China.


Airborne had funding from:

Project period

From March 1st 2015 to February 28th 2019. 


The project's main partner institution in China was the Institute of Anthropology at Zhejiang University.

Phd and postdoc projects

  • Yongdong Shen:Local Government-Society Interactions in Air Quality Protection Politics in China
  • Erling H. Agøy: Historical Climate Change in the Jiāngnán Region in the Late Míng and Early Qīng Periods
  • Edwin A. Schmitt: Catalysis of a Social Disaster: An Institutional History of the Energy Sector in China
  • Hedda Flatø: Polluted Perspectives: Environmental Troubles and Popular Opinion in China
  • Hans Henrik Moe: Breathing in the Anthropocene: Air Pollution, Teleological Thinking and Parallel Narratives

Airborne in the media




  • Rune Svarverud (2019). Genealogy of Chinese Perceptions of “Polluted Air”: Conceptual Change and the Terminological Landscape of Air Pollution in Modern China. 東亞觀念史集刊.  ISSN 2303-9205.  17
  • Kristin Aunan; Mette Halskov Hansen; Zhaohui Liu & Shuxiao Wang (2019). The Hidden Hazard of Household Air Pollution in Rural China. Environmental Science and Policy.  ISSN 1462-9011.  93, s 27- 33
  • Ruolan Hu; Shuxiao Wang; Kristin Aunan; M.J. Zhao; L. Chen; Zhaohui Liu & Mette Halskov Hansen (2019). Personal exposure to PM2.5 in Chinese rural households in the Yangtze River Delta. Indoor Air: International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health.  ISSN 0905-6947.  29, s 403- 412
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers & Yongdong Shen (2019). Blue Sky Fabrication in China: Science-Policy Integration in Air Pollution Regulation Campaigns for Mega-Events. Environmental Science and Policy.  ISSN 1462-9011.  94, s 135- 142
  • Hongtao Li & Rune Svarverud (2018). When London Hit the Headlines: Historical Analogy and the Chinese Media Discourse on Air Pollution. The China Quarterly.  ISSN 0305-7410.  234, s 357- 376
  • Mette Halskov Hansen & Zhaohui Liu (2018). Air Pollution and Grassroots Echoes of “Ecological Civilization” in Rural China. The China Quarterly.  ISSN 0305-7410.  234, s 320- 339
  • Kristin Aunan; Qiao Ma; Marianne Tronstad Lund & Shuxiao Wang (2018). Population-weighted exposure to PM 2.5 pollution in China: An integrated approach. Environment International.  ISSN 0160-4120.  120, s 111- 120
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers & Yongdong Shen (2018). Local Environmental Governance Innovation in China: Staging ‘Triangular Dialogues’ for Industrial Air Pollution Control. Journal of Chinese Governance.  ISSN 2381-2346.  3, s 351- 369
  • Mette Halskov Hansen; Hongtao Li & Rune Svarverud (2018). Ecological civilization: Interpreting the Chinese past, projecting the global future. Global Environmental Change.  ISSN 0959-3780.  53, s 195- 203
  • Rune Svarverud (2018). Ventilation for the Nation: Fresh Air, Sunshine, and the Warfare on Germs in China's National Quest for Hygienic Modernity, 1849-1949. Environment and History.  ISSN 0967-3407.
  • Bin Zhao; Haotian Zheng; Shuxiao Wang; Kirk R. Smith; Xi Lu; Kristin Aunan; Yu Gu; Yuan Wang; Dian Ding; Jia Xing; Xiao Fu; Xudong Yang; Kuo-Nan Liou & Jiming Hao (2018). Change in household fuels dominates the decrease in PM2.5 exposure and premature mortality in China in 2005–2015. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.  ISSN 0027-8424.  115, s 12401- 12406
  • Kristin Aunan; Mette Halskov Hansen & Shuxiao Wang (2018). Introduction: Air Pollution in China. The China Quarterly.  ISSN 0305-7410.  234, s 279- 298
  • Mette Halskov Hansen & Anna Lisa Ahlers (2017). Air Pollution: How Will China Win its Self-Declared War Against it?, In Eva Sternfeld (ed.),  Routledge Handbook of Environmental Policy in China.  Routledge.  ISBN 1138831115.  kapittel.
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers & Yongdong Shen (2017). Breathe Easy? Local Nuances of Authoritarian Environmentalism in China's Battle against Air Pollution. The China Quarterly.  ISSN 0305-7410.  234, s 299- 319
  • Rune Svarverud (2014). The Terminological Battle for 'Air' in Modern China. Wakumon.  ISSN 1345-9899.  26, s 23- 44

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  • Mette Halskov Hansen; Rune Svarverud & Anna Lisa Ahlers (2020). The Great Smog of China: A Short Event History of Air Pollution. Association for Asian Studies.  ISBN 9780924304927.  184 s.
  • Mette Halskov Hansen & Zhaohui Liu (ed.) (2018). 仰望窗外的天空--中外科学家对话空气环境与治理 (A Window on the Sky - Chinese and Foreign Scholar Discuss the Atmospheric Environment and Governance). Zhejiang University Press.  ISBN 978-7-308-18125-9.  193 s.

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  •  (2020). Polluted Perspectives: Environmental Troubles and Popular Political Attitudes in China.
  • Mette Halskov Hansen (2019). Luftforurensning som game changer i Kina.
  • Mette Halskov Hansen (2019). Kina - vår verden.
  • Mette Halskov Hansen (2019). Miljø i grisens år.
  • Hedda Flatø (2019). Polluted perspectives: Perceived air quality, economic well-being and trust in China’s local governments.
  • Mette Halskov Hansen (2019). The hidden hazards of air pollution in China: The gender and class of household air pollution.
  • Mette Halskov Hansen (2019). Imagining Eco-Civilization and Protesting Air Pollution in China.
  • Rune Svarverud (2019). Air pollution before air pollution: Smoke nuisance, fresh air and dust in the air before air pollution became an issue in China.
  •  (2019). Solar Energy in China.
  •  (2019). Studio 2, P2: Kinesiske holdninger til klima og luftforurensning.
  •  (2019). Programpost om miljø og klima i Kina.
  •  (2019). Luftforurensning i India - årsaker og helseeffekter.
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers (2018). 让蓝天重新绽放:德国鲁尔区的空气污染与治理, In Zhaohui Liu & Mette Halskov Hansen (ed.),  仰望窗外的天空--中外科学家对话空气环境与治理 (A Window on the Sky - Chinese and Foreign Scholar Discuss the Atmospheric Environment and Governance).  Zhejiang University Press.  ISBN 978-7-308-18125-9.  4.2.  s 133 - 145
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers & Yongdong Shen (2018). 中国城市大气污染治理的政策与行动, In Zhaohui Liu & Mette Halskov Hansen (ed.),  仰望窗外的天空--中外科学家对话空气环境与治理 (A Window on the Sky - Chinese and Foreign Scholar Discuss the Atmospheric Environment and Governance).  Zhejiang University Press.  ISBN 978-7-308-18125-9.  4.3.  s 146 - 154
  • Kristin Aunan (2018). Exposure matters: Integrated Population-Weighted Exposure as a metric for cost-effective and equitable air pollution abatement..
  • Hedda Flatø (2018). Class, air pollution and air quality awareness in China.
  • Hedda Flatø (2018). Risk, inequality and popular demand for government environmental protection in China.
  • Kristin Aunan (2017). China's 'Airpocalypse'. Impacts on human health and current efforts to reduce air pollution.
  • Kristin Aunan & Shuxiao Wang (2017). The role of household energy for population exposure and equitable air pollution policies.
  •  (2017). Muligens godt nytt: Kina puster tungt.
  •  (2017). Something’s in the air as environment becomes new battleground for China’s cadres.
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers (2017). invited book review - "Ma Jun, 'The Economics of Air Pollution in China: Achieving Better and Cleaner Growth', New York: Columbia University Press, 2017". The China Quarterly.  ISSN 0305-7410.  s 814- 815
  • Kristin Aunan & Shuxiao Wang (2016). Air pollution in China. Concentration levels, exposure, and health damage – status and trends.
  •  (2015). Protest against Industrial Air Pollution: A Case from Hangzhou City, China.
  • Anna Lisa Ahlers (2015). 鲁尔区“变回蓝天”对北京的启示 (Title of English version: "How the Sky over the Ruhr Became Blue Again - Or: A German researcher’s optimism about China’s opportunities to tackle the problem of air pollution"). 小康 Xiaokang (Insight China).  ISSN 1672-4879.

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Published Oct. 26, 2020 1:52 PM - Last modified May 28, 2021 3:06 PM


Mette Halskov Hansen
Project manager


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