Fact Check: Did Sky Turn Crimson Red in Chinese Port City?

Video clips and images have been rapidly circulating online that show a strange and vivid sky phenomenon in China.

The Claim

Over the past couple of days, several video clips and images have circulated on Twitter and other social media sites showing what appears to be a deep red colored sky in the Chinese east coast city of Zhoushan.

One popular clip that has been shared by several people but appears to have originated from the Chinese social media website Weibo shows a view of the sky from a residential street. As people stand and talk, the camera pans across the sky showing the blood red color, which appears brighter towards the horizon.

Other clips, which appear to show the same phenomenon, also show a deep blood red sky with a bright source somewhere close to the horizon. Individual clips have gained tens of thousands of views.

The clips were attributed eerie significance by some, including Twitter user Anonymous Operations who wrote: "In the Chinese urban district of Zhoushan, it seems that the apocalypse has begun."

They also fueled conspiracy theories, with other users pushing unevidenced narratives around clandestine government activities.

Zhoushan
A red sky seen in Zhoushan in February, 2021—not the same event as reported in the story. Chinese media outlets say the red skies reported recently were caused by fishing boat lights. Getty/TPG

The Facts

The red sky reports and videos appear to have been corroborated by the Chinese state media outlet the Global Times.

In a report on May 8, the Global Times reported that the red sky appeared over Zhoushan on Saturday, May 7, and became one of the top trending topics on Weibo where posts gained more than 150 million views. In one of the video clips, an onlooker reportedly said they had "never seen anything like this."

As to the cause, the Global Times reported that meteorologists had spoken to local media to explain why the phenomenon might have occurred.

They said that since it was foggy, cloudy, and drizzling around the time of the red sky, the color might have been caused by the reflection of light from fishing boats on low-level clouds.

Saury fishing boats often use hundreds of red-tinted LED lights, which can create a striking visual effect when amassing in great numbers in the same location at night.

Staff from the Zhoushan Meteorological Bureau said that under certain conditions aerosols in the atmosphere could "refract and scatter" the fishing boat lights, the Global Times added.

Newsweek could not independently confirm this conclusion.

Other reports of blood red skies over China happened centuries ago in 1770, with researchers since suggesting that auroras sparked by a large solar storm could have been the culprit, according to LiveScience. Sometimes solar activity can cause auroras in places where they wouldn't normally occur.

However, on this occasion the Global Times reported that solar and geomagnetic activity was calm on Saturday, citing the space physics research team of the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan.

Wildfires are another possible cause, with one of the most recent cases reported in February 2019 in Indonesia, where the smoky haze from the fire turned the sky red. Similar phenomena were observed during a spate of forest fires in Western U.S. in 2020, with witnesses describing apocalyptic scenes as the sky turned orange and red.

But that does not seem to be the case here, with no reports of wildfires in the local media in recent days, and NASA's global fire map showing that there was no significant hotspots in the Zhoushan area.

The Ruling

Fact Check - True

True.

The sky did appear to turn red over part of the city of Zhoushan in China recently, as social media images and footage from a number of angles, as well as local media reporting confirms. While Newsweek could not independently find a definitive explanation of the phenomenon, Chinese experts claim it was caused by lights from saury fishing boats being refracted onto the sky.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK