Undwer the Dome

By Gary Hart,2015-03-26 00:39
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Undwer the Dome

    Clearing the air about pollution

    By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

    Updated: 2015-03-03 07:54

    Under the Dome, a self-financed(自筹资金) movie about China's environmental meltdown, is

    an Internet phenomenon that has prompted millions of calls to green hotlines and seen bitter accusations leveled at the filmmaker, as Raymond Zhou reports.

    It's noteworthy that the most-watched Chinese documentary did not debut in a cinema or on television. Under the Dome garnered more than 155 million hits in the first 24 hours after it premiered on half a dozen Chinese websites on Feb 28, an audience that movies and TV shows can only dream about. Numerous recommendations on social media turned Under the Dome into the talk of the nation.

    Just as it sets a milestone in public communications, the film transcends platforms and genres. It's a 103-minute documentary, which is sometimes broken down into smaller segments for easy digestion; it's one continuous speech and PowerPoint-enabled presentation; and it's billed in Chinese as an investigative report. Whatever it is called, it was obviously inspired by An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's 2006 Oscar-winning warning on the worldwide threat of global warming.

    Chai Jing's work lives up to that comparison or likely inspiration. Some prominent viewers, such as Liu Chun, former head of Phoenix TV, went one step further by saying that it's actually better than Gore's film. Chai, a celebrity television reporter and former anchor with China Central Television, is known for her Barbara Walters-style approach to journalism, which made her work more accessible to the public but was criticized by some as "too touchy-feely". In Under the Dome, she uses her newborn daughter as the raison d'etre for launching her crusade against smog. "I had never been afraid of air pollution or worn a surgical mask," she says in the documentary. "But now as I hold a new life in my arms and feed her, I begin to truly


have fear."

    In a previous interview with Southern Weekly, Chai revealed that she hesitated for a long time about including her baby in the film, which was independently produced and self-financed. She probably foresaw the kind of criticism that would be hurled her way.

    It's not surprising that such a massive hit has elicited diverse responses. What's truly amazing is that the plaudits came from across the ideological spectrum as well. In the movie, Chai, with the help of scientists, defines smog and its composition and how to eliminate it. Most of us already have some of that information, but the movie puts all the individual pieces into perspective.

    According to Chai's investigation, fossil fuels account for 60 percent of China's airborne PM2.5 pollutants (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less). As shown in the movie, the environmental watchdog is often toothless and helpless when guarding our air. Some of the laws have been in place for years, but have never been applied. As a matter of fact, the movie explains that businesses are pressured not to abide by the laws because violating them carries little or no cost, while toeing the line invariably bumps up costs. China's petroleum and steel industries are exposed as the biggest sources of air pollution. The petroleum sector is a State monopoly, setting lower standards of cleanliness for its products even though customers are willing and able to pay for cleaner fuel, all in the name of energy security. The steel industry suffers from a glut of capacity and receives large doses of government subsidies - this in the name of maintaining the momentum of economic growth. Chai does not stop there. She goes on to list the things ordinary people can do to help restore clean air in the country. Half of Beijing's drivers, she says, only use their motor vehicles within a radius of 5 kilometers of their homes, while 12 percent travel within 2 km, and 7 percent within just 1 km. Chai encourages people to take public transport when covering such short distances, just as she and her family only use their car for trips to the airport, the hospital or when their child or an elderly relative is involved.


    Chai also reported dust from a construction site near her home - dust accounts for 15 percent of eijing's PM2.5 - and, within minutes, the offending material had been covered up. The city's B

    restaurants are also a major source, accounting for 6 percent of PM2.5 in the capital, and are supposed to install purifying devices in all kitchen ventilators. A week after Chai complained, the restaurant she patronizes installed such a device.

    This part, while raising public participation in the campaign for rigorous enforcement of environmental protection laws, has been criticized by some for "spreading the culpability to every citizen and diluting the focus on the government." Accusations come from both right and left, with some people accusing Chai, groundlessly, of taking money from foreign institutions, and also criticizing big businesses that represent government interests. Other critics have accused her of soft-pedaling on some crucial issues that may draw ire from the establishment. Chai financed the movie with royalties from her previous book, which was a best-seller. There is no disclosure about her financial arrangement with websites that stream the movie. The website I accessed, Youku, displays a minute of advertising before the movie, but, unlike most of Youku's programming, there were no additional ads embedded in the movie.

    Even though the movie has generally been accepted as a public service film, detractors claim Chai is a heavy smoker, which they say is irresponsible in view of her newborn child, or has secretly emigrated, which makes her an outsider in China. Both points have been refuted. Perhaps the overwhelming approval from the public has made the minority voices of dissension louder and more cantankerous than they actually are.

    However, it's a little pathetic that the focus has been shifted from the issue to the person. Chai is wisely lying low. Meanwhile, an increasing number of people are heeding her advice to take upon themselves the kind of things each individual is capable of doing to change the climate for the better. Wang Run, a Beijing-based theater critic, now takes her son around town by subway. Phones at the hotline listed in the movie, 12369, are reported to have been ringing off the hooks as citizens report what they see as environmental violations. And the public will inevitably keep a sharper eye on government regulations and implementation to solve the problem from the



    A netizen with the handle ZhiShousi, who works as a manager with Amazon China, uploaded a screen capture from his mother, who is uncomfortable using the Web: "I saw Chai's movie. It makes the point that everyone has a responsibility when a country faces a crisis. A mother's love is the same everywhere. Chai speaks for thousands of mothers who are unable to say or do what they want to protect their children. She could have escaped to a better place, but she chooses to challenge the smog. She is paying her price for it. I salute her, a true hero of our time."

    Chai Jing, former presenter and journalist with China Central Television, presents a self-funded documentary about smog in Beijing, Feb 28, 2015. [Photo/CFP]

    Former anchor Chai Jing became a household name through her in-depth investigative reporting for China Central Television of national news stories such as the SARS outbreak, Wenchuan earthquake and coal mine accidents.

    Having taken time off to have a daughter she has now ended her self-imposed exile with a self-funded documentary about smog called Under The Dome.

    Gruesome pictures of withered trees, murky skies and lifeless rivers appear but the film also shows a scientific perspective backed by data, field investigations at home and abroad and interviews with officials, scientists and the general public.

    Beijing had 175 polluted days in 2014, eclipsed by neighboring Tianjin with 197 and Shijiazhuang with 264 days.

    Satellite pictures from NASA demonstrate worsening air quality in northern China over the past 10 years.

    Chai, again exhibiting her skills as a story teller, illustrates these statistics by taking the examples of tearful babies battling pneumonia, caused, according to their mothers, by bad air and a woman in her 50s undergoing surgery at Beijing Cancer Hospital.


    The burning of coal and oil contributes to 60 percent of PM2.5 pollutants, or airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that penetrate the lungs, building the statistical background for her to question the country's energy consumption habits.

    China burnt 360 million tons of coal in 2013, more than the rest of the world combined, but much of the energy has been wasted in ill-performing steel factories which rely on government subsidy for survival, according to the film.

    Investigation into steel makers in Beijing's neighboring province of Hebei, exposed the conundrum between a GDP-driven economy and environmental protection.

    Chai and Zhang Dawei, an investigator with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, recorded a steel company's illegal emission in Tangshan, a heavy industry center in October, only to find the company escaped punishment.

    "It just doesn't work out to sacrifice employment for the environment," says XiongYuhui, an official with the environment authorities.

    The former journalist goes on to disclose loopholes in car emission regulations, signifying the importance of the matter by quoting another number 100 million, referring to new cars added

    to the road in China in the past 10 years.

    Seeking a precedent, Chai traveled to London and Los Angeles, two cities considered role models in cleaning once hazardously polluted air.

    Chai sums up by calling for individual responsibility in reporting illegal emitters via a hotline. Chen Jining, newly appointed minister of environmental protection, is seen in this file photo taken on Apr 25, 2010. [Photo/IC]

    The documentary has provoked national discussion after going viral online, turning social media into a hot spot of conflicting views.

    "Chai Jing's investigation into smog" remained one of the hottest hashtags on Sina Weibo, a


    Chinese version of Twitter, while the documentary has been viewed more than 17 million times on Youku, a major Chinese video sharing website.

    Critics questioned the former anchor's motives, saying it remained uncertain whether a disease suffered by her young daughter was directly caused by smog in China with rumors circulating that she is a regular smoker, while praise also flooded into Weibo applauding Chai's efforts to inspire the public.

    The film became so ubiquitous that Chen Jining, newly appointed minister of environmental protection, said he had called Chai to express his appreciation after watching the whole video. With smog back in the spotlight, Chen is expected to deal with tons of inquisitive reporters in coming weeks when the nation's legislators hold annual meetings in Beijing.

    Former TV anchor on crusade against pollution


    Updated: 2015-02-28 21:12:06

    Former TV anchor on crusade against pollution

    Chai Jing, former presenter and journalist with China Central Television, presents a self-funded documentary about smog in Beijing, Feb 28, 2015. [Photo/CFP]

    A former celebrity TV presenter has released a self-funded documentary about smog, inspired by her sick daughter.

    Chai Jing's one-year project, Under the Dome, marks a comeback for the former presenter and journalist with China Central Television following the birth of her child. It adds a sentimental


    touch to a matter of public interest with Chai not only an independent observer but also a concerned mother.

    After ending a decade with the state broadcaster early last year, Chai shunned public attention to focus on taking care of her daughter, who was diagnosed with a tumor as a fetus and underwent surgery as a new-born baby.

    "I saw smog through my daughter's eyes," Chai said while presenting her film. She recounted how the little girl was confined indoors, patting the window to vent her frustration at being unable to play outside.

    The public is no stranger to Chai criticizing pollution-plagued areas notably the northern province of Shanxi, her coal-rich hometown, which helped build her image as an environmental advocate.

    Chai said she hopes the 103-minute film will serve as an answer to three questions about smog what is smog, where does it come from and what to do about it.

    It's also the answer that she's been preparing for her daughter.

    Chai became a household name through in-depth investigative reporting of big national news stories such as the SARS outbreak, Wenchuan earthquake and coal mine accidents.


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