Nearly 90 percent of China's big cities failed to meet air quality standards in 2014, but that was still an improvement on 2013 as the country's "war on pollution" began to take effect, the environment ministry said on Monday.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection said on its website that only eight of the 74 cities it monitors managed to meet national standards in 2014 on a series of pollution measures such as PM2.5, which is a reading of particles found in the air, carbon monoxide and ozone.
China said last year it would "declare war on pollution" and it has started to eliminate substandard industrial capacity and reduce coal consumption.
In 2013, only three cities - Haikou on the island province of Hainan, Lhasa in Tibet autonomous region and the coastal resort city of Zhoushan - met the standards.
They were joined in 2014 by Shenzhen, Huizhou and Zhuhai in southern Guangdong province, Fuzhou in neighbouring Fujian and Kunming in the southwest.
Beijing is not among the 10 Chinese cities with the worst air quality nor among the 10 Chinese cities with the best air quality.
Of the 10 worst-performing cities in 2014, seven were located in the heavy industrial province of Hebei, which surrounds the capital, Beijing, the ministry said. The cities of Baoding, Xingtai, Shijiazhuang, Tangshan, Handan and Hengshui, all in Hebei, filled the top six places.
The ministry said the average PM2.5 reading in the Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin region stood at 93 micrograms per cubic metre last year. The state standard is 35 micrograms but China does not expect to bring the national average down to that level before 2030.