This documentary went viral in China. Then it was censored. It won’t be forgotten
Every so often a seminal book or powerful movie alters the way we see the world around us.
After the birth of her daughter, Chai Jing opted to resign from her position as a news anchor in China’s state owned station CCTV. But that hasn’t stopped her from reporting.
Several weeks ago, she released a documentary about China’s rampant, deadly air pollution called “Under The Dome,” and it effectively went viral in China, as well as around the world.
The video received over 20 million views on the video-sharing site Youku before the government banned it.
It’s said that in total, the documentary was viewed by more than 175 million people in China.
The documentary is similar to a TED-talk, featuring Jing’s talk in front of an audience. Her documentary features research, data, investigative reporting, and her own personal story. You can watch the full documentary here:
When the air pollution is especially bad, Jing keeps her daughter inside. It’s about half of the year. In the documentary she says: “The day will come when she asks me, ‘Why do you keep me here? What is going to hurt me when I go outside?’”
Eventually, Jing’s documentary would be banned by the Chinese government. According to Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, “Under the Dome” wasn’t banned for its message, but rather its popularity. Daly says the government’s biggest issue was that Jing was able to control the message and the discourse around the problem of air pollution.
“The banning of ‘Under the Dome’ is not a Chinese governmental denial or rejection of environmental concerns or Chai Jing’s argument,” said Daly.
At the end of the day though, the message was heard loud and clear by the people of China. It’s not a secret that air quality is poor in many of the nation’s cities. Now the question begs to be asked: what comes next?
On Sunday, at the closing press conference of the National People’s Congress, a reporter from the Huffington Post asked Chinese Premier Li Keqiang what the government was going to do about some of the accusations in the film. Rather than attack the film, he replied:
I want to tell you that the Chinese government is determined to tackle environmental pollution, and tremendous efforts have been made in this regard. The progress we have made still fall far short of expectation of our people. Last year I said that the Chinese government would declare a war against environmental pollution. We are determined to carry forward our efforts until we achieve our goal.
We must get the focus of our efforts right. This year our focus will be to ensure the full implementation of the newly revised environmental protection law. All illegal production and emissions will be brought to justice and held accountable. We need to make the cost for pollution too high to bear. More support, including capacity building, needs to be given to these environmental law enforcement departments.
The Chinese government finds itself in a delicate spot. After all, as Li notes, the government has been taking some bold steps to try to get air pollution—and greenhouse gas emissions—under control. It is experimenting with cap and trade systems in several cities. It is spending billions to promote wind and solar power. And in an important breakthrough at a meeting with President Obama, China’s leader Xi Jinping pledged to put a cap on its carbon emissions by 2030.