The New Chinese Documentary “Under the Dome”
At the beginning of March, there was a new film released that warned about the environmental impact of China’s economic growth. “Under the Dome,” a two-hour documentary by journalist Chai Jing, sought to find the causes and solutions for China’s air pollution problem.
The movie was released on Feb. 28, attracting supporters, as well as critics. Admirers linked the film to the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary which aimed at raising awareness on the issue of global warming. Detractors described it as investigative journalism that was filled with bad science and wrongful conclusions.
The response of the environment minister, Chen Jining, was in the form of gratitude to Jing for putting emphasis on such an important issue in Chinese society. He was quoted saying “I think this work has an important role in promoting public awareness of environmental health issues, so I’m particularly pleased about this event.”
This claim reinforced doubts about the independence of the self-funded documentary. On the other hand, many more perceived the actions of the Minister as an encouraging step. However, all optimism vanished as 24 hours after the launch of the documentary censors removed all mentions of the video from major websites.
Jing’s film was made after she herself became pregnant and feared for the health of her unborn child. The film exposes how regulations over emissions are being curtailed, with factories exceeding legal limits. Finally, Jing decided not to criticize the industrial expansion itself, but to argue for policy changes.
This has not been the first time China has tried to downplay the problem. During an Apec Summit last year, Chinese officials removed U.S. embassy’s air quality readings for Beijing, which showed air pollution to be six times the limit set by the World Health Organization.
Environmental protection is the topic that has attracted most attention in China. In 2014, a media monitoring group reported that environmental protection surpassed corruption as the most discussed topic online – “smog was the most discussed of all environmental topics.” Premier Li had more mentions of air pollution in his 2014 speech, saying “the smog clouds regularly covering China were expanding.” He also stressed at that time for a need to enforce a plan. This year the government work report set out specific targets in the hopes of achieving specific results.
This article was written by Ivan Gabrovski from AUBG’s Political Science Club.