This paper looks at the problem of information control behind the unsustainable levels of air pollution in China. In particular, it focuses on a large urban area, Beijing, and it examines the role of the public, government-controlled information and the adaptation choices of households in response to signals about high pollution. Our analysis is based on a simple theoretical framework in which people migrate from rural areas to polluted cities, receiving a signal from the government about urban pollution; hence, they decide whether to adapt to pollution or not. We find that the government has no incentive to ensure sustainable air quality, as it can distort pollution information in order to attract cheap labour. We then analyse empirically two different air pollution indexes from different sources and agents’ behaviour in an original household survey collected in Beijing. We find that the official air pollution values are systematically distorted, creating perverse incentives for households to react to bad air quality, especially for people who rely on government-controlled sources of information.