Last week China experienced a viral sensation that sent great plumes of controversy across the country as a new documentary exploring the worsening pollution crisis spread like a coal fire in a power plant. The film was watched more than 100 million times in the first 24 hours alone.
On Friday, Chinese authorities started removing the film from Chinese video hosting services, shortly before the full English translation landed on YouTube. A leaked directive from the Chinese government even orders the media not to report on the film.
For those of us in liberal Western democracies, the film is only a click away and makes for an eye-opening hour and 45 minutes.
Under The Dome
Simply called Under The Dome — a reference to the cocoon of carcinogens that enshrines many of China’s largest urbanised environments — the documentary is the work of former China Central Television host and respected investigative reporter, Chai Jing.
The documentary was an entirely self-funded affair, and came to being once Chai discovered that her unborn child had a tumour (which was removed shortly after birth) — something she attributes to poor air quality. What follows is a brutally honest glimpse into how China is losing the war on pollution.
Chai takes a leaf from Al Gore’s book and presents her findings in the form of a lecture, complete with interviews, official mandates and graphs that show some alarming trends. She discovers what many have assumed all along: both state-owned and private-enterprise polluters put profits first, ignoring regulations and environmental best-practices.
The film goes on to draw parallels between increasing levels of production and worsening public health, with some areas experiencing incredibly high rates of cancer and respiratory illness. Blame is placed on China’s industrialised culture, the failure of self-regulation among some of the top state-owned polluters and the Communist Party’s own Ministry of Environmental Protection which is often powerless to interfere.
You can watch the film, complete with full English subtitles, by clicking play on the YouTube video above. You will also find the original Chinese version and other translations on YouTube — the film was released for free so copyright restrictions do not apply.
This isn’t the first film about China’s pollution crisis, and it’s unlikely to be the last as the Internet is awash with investigative films of this ilk. In particular, independent media network Vice has produced a two-part film about the situation in China in 2012 titled The Devastating Effects of Pollution in China.
The crew travel to (what was believed to be the) most polluted place on earth, the coal-mining town of Linfen in Shanxi Province. Here state-owned coal mines operate alongside illegal ones, with this industry alone being responsible for a large part of the nation’s current pollution crisis.
Another excellent source of news for all things China is the China Uncensored YouTube channel, which takes a look at happenings in the East from a distinctly Western perspective. Earlier in February host Chris Chappell suggested that pollution had reached “apocalyptic levels”.
Another YouTube channel that frequently uploads original, independent films is Journeyman Pictures. The film, which was produced for SBS in Australia shines a light on soaring cancer rates in so-called “cancer villages” – settlements that are seeing more young lives taken by cancer than ever before.
Freelance journalist Souvid Datta has also produced a short film about Chinese pollution, titled The Human Price of Pollution. The film looks at the links between water scarcity and pollution, as rivers dry up and others are contaminated — with little rainfall to dilute or help purify the ground-water.
Finally, a short film produced by the UK’s Channel 4 News takes us on a tour of another heavily polluted Chinese city, Shinjiazhuang. This film shows how power plant operators can begin work before receiving the required environmental certificates required.
Not Just China’s Problem
China’s pollution may be exacerbated by unchecked growth and a culture of “profit over people”, but much of this growth continues to be driven by Western consumerism and the pursuit of ever cheaper electronics, most of which come from China. If you want to help China solve it’s pollution problem, you can start right now by cutting demand.
How do you solve a pollution problem like the one faced by China? Leave your ideas below, and feel free to point out more documentaries.