07 March 2015

Must-Watch “Silent Spring” Chinese Air Pollution Documentary “Under the Dome” Sadly Silenced

No matter what your focus and how busy your schedule, I strongly suggest that you watch in its entirety former CCTV reporter Chai Jing’s heartfelt, heartbreaking documentary on the literally breathtaking scale and human cost of China’s air pollution. It’s produced as well as the best TED Talk, and is exceptionally impactful even by TED Talk standards.

Click here to watch the full-length documentary in Chinese with English subtitles: “柴静雾霾调查: 穹顶之下” [Chai Jing’s Report: Under the Dome—Investigating China’s Smog], February 2015.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all: despite the video’s going viral and attracting a veritable groundswell of genuine, patriotic Chinese support, it now appears to be blocked in China. According to China environmental policy expert Dr. Elizabeth C. Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Chinese documentary about environmental health goes viral and is then shut down. A new documentary titled “Under the Dome” had received hundreds of millions of views before the Communist Party’s central propaganda department ordered it to be deleted from Chinese websites. The video itself, as well as the official attempts to stem its spread, reveal how politically sensitive the issue of environmental health has become in China. Chai Jing, a former CCTV journalist, produced the documentary and is featured in it as the host of the 104-minute long documentary that takes a comprehensive look at pollution in China. Chai spent  $160,000 dollars of her own money to make the film and while she does bring up underlying economic and political issues, she takes care to do it in a light and gentle fashion. Chai said that she produced the film mainly out of concern for the health of her infant daughter. The film contains interviews with Chinese government officials and speculation as to the extent of their support for the film is now being closely scrutinized.

Click here for further information on the documentary’s being blocked.

A New York Times article concluded on a similarly unfortunate note: “On Friday evening, Xinhua, the state news agency, posted on Twitter, which is also blocked here, that ‘President Xi Jinping vows to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions.’ That night, the United States Embassy air monitor in Beijing rated the air ‘hazardous.’”

What a bitter irony! Foreigners can watch at will—while breathing often-far-better air at the standard human rate of 25,000 lungfuls per day—this thoughtful, constructive production designed specifically to address a key Chinese (and global) environmental problem. Yet access is being restricted for the Chinese citizens whose lives, health, and prospects for the future are most impacted. These are the very people who have the most at stake in gradually solving the terrible problems dramatized anew in the Chai Jing’s painstaking documentary.