The impact of Chai Jing’s work

Chinese journalist Chai Jing produced an investigative report on China’s air pollution which produced and financed by herself. This movie, motivated by her child’s tumor, focuses on three main issue, what the haze is, where it comes from and what we can do.

After seeing the movie, I cannot help wondering what the impact of the movie is. I think it can be divided into three sorts, teaching science, raising attention and changing thinking ways.

Admittedly, the content is quite good for an amateur of environmental science. With expert interviews, pictures, diagrams and cartoons, academic concepts are clearly illustrated. However, treating the movie as an educating tool and solution provider seems not so rational since the movie is not objective with a biased diagram, one-sided data and a given stance.

The diagram used to show the PM2.5 leads high death rate is misleading. Since the horizontal axis is year instead of death rate, the correlation between PM 2.5 and death rate cannot be implied. Even if the x axis is death rate, the casual relationship cannot be justified since it is an observational study instead of a randomized experiment. Thus, it may overestimate the harm haze may cause. And by showing one-sided data, the negative effect of state-owned enterprises and burning coal is exaggerated, while the obstacles and shortcomings of her solution is not mentioned at all. It may underestimate the benefits of other alternatives like developing nuclear energy and improving the quality of coal. In addition, despite the political background it may have since it was released on People’s daily just before NPC&CPPCC, there is no doubt that the producer has her own stance towards the haze problem, which is promoting privation and natural gas. The movie seems to give us the expression that it is the great power of oil companies that makes the coal the primary energy source while the causation may be reversed considering social, cultural and natural factors. Having a given stance makes the movie less convincing since she is mainly promoting her idea instead of discussing all the possibilities. What’s more, taking her child as a victim of the haze to arouse sympathy may in some extent harm the objectiveness of the movie as well. Hence, educating people with scientific knowledge and providing practical solutions is not the primary function of this movie.

Someone may argue that since it is distributed freely to media, the movie raises great attention and spreads rapidly through the social media, thus the movie has greatly raised people awareness which is essential in solving the problem. But after I recall the responses, I think the impact on raising awareness is subtle.

The first flow of responses are mostly compliments from mainstream media such as People’s daily and Phoenix New Media. They applauded her courage to investigate such a complex issue and praised on the motive, the deep love for her child. Even the new minister of the department of environment sent a message to her appreciating her excellent work. But soon, the critique voices appeared and the social media became the battlefields. Despite for the engineer from CIPC, the main participants in the battle are the normal people. The critique can be mainly divided into three types, the critique on Chai Jing herself, the critique on the motives and the critique about the political background. With time going, the event gradually goes out of sight. Though there are still heated discussions about whether there are scientific errors in the movie, the battlefields have moved to the Q&A webs such as ZHIHU and GUOKE in which experts hold the discussion. Since less discussions are retweeted in the social media, less people got acknowledged about the current dispute in the science field. But the event does not ended. Surprisingly, most mainstream websites, like People’s daily, Youku and Iqiyi, which have let out the movie early, drew it back. Up to now, it is hard to find the interviews conducted by the People’s daily and the video on the mainstream media. It seems like the topic have be censored.

We can find that opinions are first transmitted by the media and get echoed by friends, family, members and colleagues through social media. The later step explains the short-term popularity it has. But the popularity of it seems have no real effect, since in that period ordinary people cares less about the haze itself, they care more about the mysterious background and Chai Jing’s personal issues instead. And since when there are heated discussion in the Q&A, participants are mainly technicians and academic experts, ordinary people did almost nothing instead of abusing government and dialing the 12369 only in that day. Even the seemly useless popularity soon disappeared when less people commented on the movie in the social media. It seems reasonable since new topic is never in shortage and only novel things can be popular in social media. But with the drawback of the movie in the mainstream media, the silence of the media makes it harder for people to recall that movie. Thus the impact in the perspective of raising attention may seems subtle since the haze is an old topic and people will soon forget about it.

Though it may have many limits, but it is indeed a great movie and the impact on changing how we think and how we express cannot be ignored.

With the movie, the importance of scientific reasoning is stressed and Q&A webs provide platforms for people holding different views to rationally discuss and argue. Chai Jing shows us how an ordinary people can think like professional scientists with the help of information technology. It may promote people to gain information from reliable online academic source by themselves instead of solely believing what others say. More people may develop habits on rational discussion and thinking critically by participating in online Q&A instead of blaming the government without a reason. It may make us think in a more rational way.

Speaking of the movie itself, the way she expressed may explain its popularity. Instead of being an expert giving a one-side lecture, she acts like an ordinary person expressing confusions and asking questions .Every complicated concept and diagram is clearly explained after her questions which makes it more like a two-side talk and gets people engaged. Since she knows as little about the environmental science as the audience, the audience won’t feel ignorant and thus keep in spirit. In addition, the important role social media acts can be seen from this event. It is not the mainstream media that draws people’s attention, instead it is the social media like Weibo and Wechat makes it well-known. The success of the movie in the perspective of popularization, may change the way people express their idea. Significant importance may be attached to social network and experts may talk in a friendlier manner.

In summary, Chai Jing’s work is indeed a success. Though it may not have significant impact on teaching scientific knowledge and arising attention, it may change the way we think and express. Though the movie has lost popularity now, its cognitive impact may last a little bit longer.

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