A film about air pollution by one of China’s most famous TV journalists has gone viral on Chinese social media, where it has received over 153 million views and stirred up huge conversation and conflicting views.
Former CCTV anchor Chai Jing became a household name for her investigative stories about China’s SARS outbreak, pollution and the country’s gay community. She resigned from her role in state media after giving birth last year, and spent her time instead producing this 103-minute film, which was financed with over 1 million yuan of her own money.
Chai weaves story-telling and statistics with a keynote speech that she delivered this January in a Beijing film studio to create Under the Dome, which debuted on the People’s Daily website and has received praise from the highest-reaching levels of the Chinese government.
In the film, the 39-year-old journalist from smog-ridden Shanxi province explains that her attitude towards China’s noxious haze changed after the birth of her daughter, who was diagnosed with a benign tumor as a newborn (although she never directly links this to China’s air pollution).
“Half of the days in 2014, I had to confine my daughter to my home like a prisoner because the air quality in Beijing was so poor,” Chai said. “One morning I saw my daughter banging on the window…. The day will come when she asks me, ‘Why do you keep me here? What is going to hurt me when I go outside?’”
Beijing had 174 polluted days last year, while neighboring Tianjin and Shijiazhuang (a potential venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics) saw 197 and 264 polluted days respectively.
The burning of coal and oil contributes to 60 percent of PM2.5 pollutions, Chai claims in film, where she also discloses loopholes in car emission regulations that have further contributed to the chronic pollution.
Foreign Policy elaborates:
In a rare move for Chinese journalists, Chai also criticized China’s two most powerful state-owned oil companies for resisting tougher fuel standards. Chai played a recording of an anonymous official from the powerful National Development and Reform Commission who said that Sinopec and CNPC, respectively the third and fourth companies on the Fortune 500 list, had threatened to cut off supply when state environmental authorities sought to raise fuel standards, which would also have raised fuel prices. “Shouldn’t Sinopec, a giant state-owned enterprise with more than $400 billion in revenue last year, take some social responsibility?” Chai asked.
Chai’s talk also detailed visits Los Angeles and London, two cities with some success combating air pollution. To her surprise, she discovered that China already possesses clean technology, and similar regulations, at least on paper. Chai said the problem was that Chinese regulators either lacked the power they needed or were lax in their enforcement. Other causes of air pollution include excess heavy industry production and an obsession with building the next “metropolitan city,” a phrase often used by local officials in their vows. Chai urged more grassroots action, like calling China’s national environmental protection hotline in the event of violations and using public transportation whenever possible. At the end of her speech, Chai turned around to face the screen behind her that showed a rotating Earth. “One day, I will leave this world. But my child will still live here,” she said. The in-studio audience was visibly engaged, and some appeared to have tears in their eyes.
Chai’s efforts have received recognition from state media as well as Chen Jining, the newly appointed minister of environmental protection, who personally thanked the journalist for the research she put into the video. Criticism has likewise been pouring in from web users, some of whom accused Chai of reflecting viewpoints held by the urban class without delving into issues faced by working-class Chinese, whose livelihoods rely on the polluting industries. Others called Chai a hypocrite for ‘pretending’ to care about China’s problems after giving birth in the US, and rumors surfaced that Chai herself is a regular smoker.
According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s propaganda committee had on Monday ordered a directive to media outlets to cease further reporting on the documentary, although it is still available for viewing in China and continues to soar in popularity.
The film, which has been likened to the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, made its debut just ahead of the annual parliamentary sessions of China, or the “two sessions”, and air pollution has topped the issues of concern that residents hope to see covered.
Watch the first 10 minutes of the film with English subtitles here:
Here’s the full thing (with messy translations):