Under the Dome and the Censorship
Chai Jing is fearless.
In 2015, the Chinese investigative reporter and popular newscaster released “Under the Dome,” an online, self-financed documentary film about air pollution in 27 cities in China.
While air pollution is not a new topic in China, Chai’s film dug deep into a subject the government often ignores or denies. In Beijing, face masks and air filters are bestselling products during severe smog days. People frequently get sick from air pollution. Many have taken action to protest polluting factories and power plants.
Using statistical data and charts culled from 2014, together with her own experiences and interviews with officials from PetroChina, a state-owned coal and oil company, Chai shows that air pollution has poses a greater threat to public health now than in past years. And feckless environmental regulators and ambiguous regulations have done little to nothing to improve the situation.
The film starts with a story about how Chai kept her daughter from playing outside because of the air pollution. As a parent, she wanted to protect her child.
“I have kept her inside during the severe smog days, nearly half of 2014 in Beijing,” she says in the film. “It’s like a prison for my daughter.”
Chai described in the film how the original purpose of making a documentary was to figure out how her daughter developed a lung tumor while she was pregnant and whether air pollution had anything to do with it.
Through her daughter’s story, Chai hoped to grab the attention of parents and make them aware of possible dangers of air pollution.
Later, Chai delves into an in-depth investigation of PetroChina even in the face of possible backlash from the company. She investigates its CEO and shows how PetroChina monopolizes the oil and coal industry. Many journalists in China are afraid to report on these sensitive topics because they may get in trouble with the state.
Chai also investigated several other illegal oil and coal companies. Here too, she put herself in danger — she was pregnant with her daughter at the time — by exposing state officials who denied having ties to the companies.
Calling for public action
Chai pointed out that there were several practical solutions to coping with air pollution.
The Great Smog of 1952 in London proved that air pollution could be addressed with appropriate regulations. Chai says that China should adopt strict environment laws and enforce these laws as a method of preventing air pollution. At the end of the film, she calls for the public to take action to protect environment.
Chai’s message is that even small changes to their habits can have a large impact on limiting pollution.
Discovering the secrets under the censorship
Both online and offline, Chai’s film drew a lot of attention from the public. Initially, more than 100 million people viewed it online after Chai posted it. And the day after the film was posted, Chen Jingling, China’s minister of environmental protection, commended her for brining attention to air pollution.
“Air pollution has spoiled people’s quality of life. We must fight it with all our might,” Premier Li Keqiang, said at the National People’s Congress on March 5.
However, after three weeks, the documentary was banned and censored by the government, according to The Washington Post. It’s unclear what agency removed all trace of the documentary.
After watching Chai’s film, the public expressed their frustration with the state of air pollution in China, which may have explained why censors took action against the film.
In China, Chai is viewed as a remarkable public figure. Under the severe censorship, she acts as a superwoman, digging out the news and fearlessly reporting it.
As an investigate reporter, she has worked for many respected news programs in China, including News Investigate, 24 hours and One on One. Over the last decade, she has reported on the SARS epidemic, the Wenchuan Earthquake and the Beijing Olympics.
Before Chai made the film, she had resigned from China Central Television after her news show Insight was suspended and censored.
In 2003, when I was 11 years old, an outbreak of SARS in Southern China caused 8096 cases and killed 774 people in 37 countries. Chai was the first journalist had been close contact with SARS victims regardless how precarious the surroundings were. After seeing this, the dream of becoming a journalist formed in my mind. Chai encouraged me to become a good reporter, digging out more stories fearlessly. She acted like the superwoman, trying her best to expose the truth to the public.