The sunrise over Tiananmen Square was photo-worthy, but not for its beauty. The sunrise wasn't real.

The viral image snapped by a Chinese photographer shows a ruby-red sunrise televised on an LED screen; meanwhile in real life, Beijing's skyline is clouded by smog.

The virtual sunrise is part of an advertising campaign for China's Shandong province, but it's the photo's startling contrast to reality that has people talking.

While the city's air quality is often poor, last week Beijing's concentration of toxic small particles registered 26 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.

During winter months, the smog can become particularly bad because stagnant weather patterns combine with an increase in coal burning.

Jan. 16 marked the highest air density reading since January 2013, and city officials instructed residents to wear protective masks when outside.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing issued a statement saying, "Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors."

Tiananmen Square's large LED screens are often used to advertise tourist destinations and to share government messages. Ironically, last week the screens are reported to have displayed the slogan, "Protecting atmospheric environment is everyone's responsibility."

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