Air Pollution in China’s Largest Cities: 2022 vs. 2021

How was air pollution in China’s major cities in 2022? Fortunately, air pollution in most cities improved in 2022 over 2021, but a few cities lagged behind. Let’s take a closer look at how air quality fared in China’s major cities.

A Quick Glance

Air pollution in 16 major Chinese cities dropped on average by 4.8% from 2021 to 2022. Compared to 2021, Zhengzhou and Hangzhou saw air quality worsen slightly, with an increase in average annual PM2.5 of 1-2 µg/m3. Xi’an’s air quality was the big loser with an average annual PM2.5 increasing 8 µg/m3. This increase is an 18% rise compared to 2021!

Air quality in major Chinese cities

Air quality in 5 cities improved by more than 10%, with PM2.5 dropping by 2-6 µg/m3.


Beijing’s PM2.5 air quality significantly improved in 2021 with a 10% drop and 2022 with a 12% drop.. Even so, the annual average concentration is still 30 micrograms, 6 times higher than the WHO limit. The air quality was much better in the beginning of the year due to the Winter Olympics (February-March). The air quality in the summer and autumn (April-November) was slightly worse than last year.

Beijing air quality


Chengdu’s air quality has stagnated, from 41 µg/m3 in 2020, to 40 micrograms and 39 micrograms in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Chengdu air quality in 2022 is even worse than Beijing in 2020 (38 micrograms).

Chengdu air quality

In contrast, air quality in Chongqing, the neighbor known as the foggy city, rose by 2 micrograms in 2021 and subsequently fell by 4 micrograms in 2022 (31 micrograms).

Pay close attention, Chengdu residents! Smart Air has also been vigorously promoting science popularization in Chengdu. Visit our workshops hosted by Kent and Hunter, and bring safe breath to yourself, your family, and friends.


When it comes to terrible air, Xi’an, the representative of Northwest China, deserves a nomination. In 2022, Xi’an had the worst air quality among the 16 cities, with PM2.5 rising from 41 to 49 micrograms, a regression of 18%. During the winter, the air pollution was particularly severe with PM2.5 exceeding 75 micrograms. Xi’an dwellers may need to tape their masks (or purifier!) to the face.

Xi'an air quality


Coastal city Shanghai continued its positive air quality trend with a 14% and 11% drop in the last 2 years, respectively. Last year’s average of 25 micrograms ranked it towards the top of the list. Note: this is still 5 times higher than the WHO annual limit! October is the cleanest month in Shanghai. What about a trip to Shanghai during the National Holiday?

Shanghai air quality


No surprise, Shenzhen was the “clean air leader” among 16 major Chinese cities with an average of 16 micrograms in 2023. Moreover, it is also the only city below 20 micrograms for two consecutive years.

Shenzhen air quality

2022 Annual Air Quality Review

In 2022, the air quality in most of the major cities in China continued a positive trend. Although the trend is great to see, even the levels in Shenzhen are 3 times the WHO limit.  

According to the latest WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines, the annual average standard for PM2.5 is 5 micrograms, and all of the major cities have air pollution levels that are still far above this standard.

Rankings: Top 10 Most Polluted Cities in China

Under the WHO standard, our engineers analyzed and examined PM2.5 data from 52 cities across the country. We found that only one city had PM2.5 below the WHO annual standard, and that was Lhasa. Xi’an, which had the highest annual average PM2.5 pollution this year, was nearly 10 times higher than the WHO standard.

How to Breathe Clean Air in a Polluted City?

There are a couple of extremely effective and affordable ways to breathe clean air even in the midst of a polluted city. The benefits of breathing cleaner air are staggering.

Read More: Two Ways to Breathe Clean Air and Six Amazing Health Benefits

Free Guide to Breathing Safe

Want to learn more about breathing clean air? Join thousands more and stay up to date on protecting your health.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Smart Air low cost purifiers

Smart Air is a social enterprise and certified B-Corp that offers simple, no-nonsense air purifiers and provides free education to protect people from the harms of air pollution. We are proud to be the only certified B-Corp dedicated to fighting air pollution.

Certified B-Corp air purifier company