Chinese Posters Warn of the Dangers of Smog

Say No to Smog Poster Winners

  • Erosion. By Chen Liang
    Erosion. By Chen Liang
  • Family Portrait. By Xiaojun Chen
    Family Portrait. By Xiaojun Chen
  • Oh, Mai God. By Peng Rui
    Oh, Mai God. By Peng Rui
  • Serving the Public by Inhaling Smog. By Deng Chuyun
    Serving the Public by Inhaling Smog. By Deng Chuyun
  • Must Cure it Once and for All. By He Lijun
    Must Cure it Once and for All. By He Lijun
  • China, I Can’t See You. By Zeng Li
    China, I Can’t See You. By Zeng Li
  • Dalmatian with Ulcers. By Wu Guowei
    Dalmatian with Ulcers. By Wu Guowei
  • Birthmark. By Dong Guanghao
    Birthmark. By Dong Guanghao

An exhibition of smog-inspired posters is touring the polluted cities of northern and eastern China this month to draw attention to the impending environmental disaster.

Created by a group of Chinese designers, the 300 posters depict the terrifying face of smog to show how pollution changes our lives—and even our genes: One image shows a baby with a birthmark in the shape of a mask over his face.

The posters have resonated with people in China and elsewhere. A Mr. Wang, who has taken his family to live abroad, said on WeChat that “although we’re not in China, our compatriots back home suffering, and that makes every Chinese person sad.”

Posters Record Life in Smog

Designers should use visual arts to make the public more environmentally aware and take action to protect the planet, one of the organizers of the exhibition, Gu Peng, told chinadialogue. Gu is Executive Chair of the China Designers’ Salon, and has been a designer for over 20 years.

The posters document the regret, fear, and helplessness of Chinese people living with air pollution—and the country’s ongoing disaster. In 50 years, these posters will provide a window for people to look back and see what the smog was like, the designers hope.

The prize-winning poster depicts a human face drawn from countless bacteria-shaped black dots, bringing to mind the oppression and unpleasantness of the smog.

The designer, Chen Liang, told chinadialogue that “people of all classes are breathing the same filthy air. If I close my eyes and think about it I see a twisted and angry face.”

The posters made a deep impression on Klaus Hesse, one of the judges of the competition and head of the communications design department at the University of Art and Design Offenbach am Main.

Speaking to chinadialogue, Hesse said he was “overwhelmed by the number of participants, it was great to see so much interest and I’m very happy the topic is being taken so seriously.”

Designers Support the Environment

Xu Changxin, Deputy Head of the Zhengzhou Graphic Design Association, created the exhibition. But he never expected the posters to go on tour—he just wanted to gather a collection of public education posters on the theme of smog.

Xu said that while China is facing a grave environmental crisis, many people do nothing but complain or joke. They do not contribute to a solution.

“Posters are a global language and have a strong visual impact—they communicate more powerfully than text,” Xu said. He explained that designers can use posters to persuade people to stop ignoring environmental problems. Xu had the idea for the poster collection in 2014, and received a positive response from Chinese designers, receiving over 3,200 entries.