Written by: Beth Karen | July 14th, 2015
Under the Dome is a film by Chinese journalist Chai Jing that focuses on China’s flawed environmental regulations and the devastating effect its having on the nation’s people. What makes this film so powerful is it was released in Communist China, which has a government notorious for censorship. Regardless, Under the Dome racked up over 150 million views in its first three days of online publication. The film has since be censored by the government, but it has already succeeded in shedding light on China’s air pollution.
The Mission Behind Under the Dome
Jing was inspired to create the film when her daughter was born with a benign tumor in 2014. She states in the film how she has to keep her daughter confined indoors because of poor air quality. One of the more powerful moments is when she asks a six-year-old girl if she has ever seen the stars at night, and she replies that she hasn’t. It’s a sobering thought that future generations may never see a clear sky due to China’s smog coverage.
The film has drawn comparisons to two other pieces of media which generated action towards environmental issues. The first is Silent Spring, which is a 1962 book written by Rachel Carson on the dangers of pesticides. This book was the spark that led to the ban of the chemical DDT and the eventual formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The other comparison has been to Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which shed light on the impact of climate change. Under the Dome is similar to Al Gore’s documentary in that all of Jing’s points are supported by grim statistics. She includes a call to action that urges the Chinese citizen to demand accountability from their government, which is admirable given China’s political climate. One can argue that this call to action is what got the film banned by the Chinese government.
The “dome” of smog that covers most areas of China daily is produced by burning coal and other low-quality fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. The film states that 60 percent of air pollution comes from burning coal. Jing calls out two of China’s biggest energy companies, Sinopec and CNPC, for threatening to cut off energy supply if the government enforces stricter environmental regulations. It also warrants mentioning that executives from both corporations have recently been arrested for corruption following the government’s recently crackdown. It is this type of government corruption that Jing seeks to inspire action to change.
The film points out how governments have historically fallen short of their environmental efforts. A big reason why this film has gone viral is it inspires personal action. It lays out how environmental change is up to each individual person to take action, and when enough people take action, the government is forced to follow suit.
Jing’s film has been hailed by viewers all across the globe as the spark that was needed to generate real conversation regarding China’s environmental issues. It shows how the average Chinese person is affected by lax environmental laws, yet remains silent and inactive due to fear of government retribution.
Under the Dome will go down as one of the most important documentaries of the 21st century for succeeding in bringing environmentalism to the consciousness of the average Chinese citizen.