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No, Chinese are not watching giant fake sunsets

Despite what you may have heard.


Cassandra Khaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 21, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 8:49 pm CDT

People will believe anything, it seems—including the idea that residents of pollution-strangled Beijing are wistfully staring at digitized sunrises on giant TV screens.

They’re not.

The Daily Mail was the first to post the dystopian image of China, before going on to expound on the city’s worrying pollution ratings and its desperate battle against the rising smog. The story exploded. Media outlets like Huffington Post, The Independent and Salon quickly circulated the news to their readership. Social media rushed to do the same.

If smog blocks out the sun, throw up a video of it. Beijing today: MT @joneshen1992 via @comradewong

— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 16, 2014

According to Tech in Asia, however, that haunting scene is simply the result of photographic serendipity: The sunrise is just a frame from a Shandong tourism ad, one of the many which play at Tiananmen Square each day. (See that little logo on the bottom right? Yeah.) Nothing more significant than that. Sorry. It is interesting, however, as to how quickly media outlets latched onto the story. Quartz posits it’s because Western audiences constantly hunger for apocalyptic East Asian anecdotes.

But the truth is probably less malicious than that. The Internet is infatuated with stuff that shock and amaze, after all, stories that transition into a million Facebook likes— just like the story about the snow-covered Sphinx which was later revealed to be a photograph of a miniature Sphinx in Japan’s Tobu World Square theme park.

Photo via Getty Images/Tech in Asia

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*First Published: Jan 21, 2014, 7:44 am CST