Under the Dome (film)
|Under the Dome|
Pollution in Chengdu in 2014, as depicted in Under the Dome
|穹顶之下 (qióngdǐng zhī xià)|
|Directed by||Chai Jing|
|Produced by||Ming Fan|
|Narrated by||Chai Jing|
|Country||People's Republic of China|
Under the Dome (Chinese: 穹顶之下; pinyin: qióngdǐng zhī xià) is a 2015 self-financed, Chinese documentary film by Chai Jing, a former China Central Television journalist, concerning air pollution in China. It was viewed over 150 million times on Tencent within three days of its release, and had been viewed a further 150 million times (total 300 million views) by the time it was taken offline four days later.
Chai Jing started making the documentary when her as yet unborn daughter developed a tumour in the womb, which had to be removed very soon after her birth. Chai blames air pollution for the tumour. The film, which combines footage of a lecture with interviews and factory visits, has been compared with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth in both its style and likely impact. The film openly criticises state-owned energy companies, steel producers and coal factories, as well as showing the inability of the Ministry of Environmental Protection to act against the big polluters.
Despite demonstrating the failure of China's regulations on pollution, the Chinese government at first did not censor the film. Instead, the People's Daily reposted the film alongside an interview with Chai, while Chen Jining, the recently appointed minister for environmental protection, praised the film, comparing its significance with Silent Spring, the 1962 book by US environmentalist Rachel Carson. However, within a week, the Communist Party’s publicity department confidentially ordered the film to be removed. An employee of China Business News was suspended for leaking the order.
The documentary is narrated by Chai, who presents the results of her year-long research mostly in the form of a lecture, reminiscent of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. As well as data, she reveals footage from factory visits and interviews with government officials, environmental experts and business owners. She also speaks with officials from London and Los Angeles on how their respective cities have managed to deal with historic issues of pollution.
The film shows that China is losing its "war on pollution". The targets of her film include state-owned oil companies such as China National Petroleum Corporation, which has also been the subject of the government's anti-corruption crackdown. Chai also critices PetroChina and Sinopec. These companies set their own production standards and the Ministry of Environmental Protection is largely powerless to respond. Steel producers and coal plants also ignore regulations to maximise profits. Chai visits a steel producer in Hebei province with a government inspector to measure levels of pollutants. Months later, it has yet to pay its fines but a provincial official tells her that it is not possible to shut down such factories and sacrifice employment for the sake of the environment.
Towards the end of the film, Chai urges individuals to take responsibility. She convinces a restaurant to use more environmentally sound equipment. She says: "This is how history is made. With thousands of ordinary people one day saying, 'No, I'm not satisfied, I don't want to wait. I want to stand up and do a little something.'"
Release and ban
Under the Dome was released online 28 February 2015, on the Saturday preceding the meetings of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The documentary was initially streamed on three major internet platforms, including Tencent, Youku, and the People's Daily Online, which is the online version of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. The People's Daily Online also posted an editorial interview ‘People Do Things for Love’ for Chai Jing and the documentary. The documentary was viewed more than 150 million times on Tencent within three days of its release, and received abundant discussion online. Many mainstream online platforms including Sohu, NetEase, and Sina, also posted reviews about the documentary soon after its release. Traditional newspapers, however, did not respond to the documentary, with the Beijing Youth Daily posted a review of the documentary 'Chai Jing: My Personal Battle with Smog' as its headline on March 1st, 2015, being the only exception.
By the end of March 1st, 2015, all reports and reviews about the documentary Under the Dome were withdrawn from online websites including the People’s Daily Online and other mainstream platforms. The documentary was finally banned on March 7th, 2015, in mainland China, by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. The reason of banning was said to be the pressure of public perception of smog and the fear of collective action of the people.
After viewing Under the Dome after its release, a large number of Internet viewers expressed their support towards the documentary as well as opinions on smog in China online. More than 80% of viewers said that they are deeply concerned about air pollution in China. Around 70% of viewers said that they changed their view of smog and developed a better comprehension of the problem. Over 75% expressed a willingness to restrict car and air conditioner usage and take public transportation. Moreover, viewers believed that official bureaus, heavy-industry emitters, and legislatures should be accountable for the smog problem.
While receiving many positive responses, criticism on the documentary also emerged among public. Some people doubted that the scientific numeric data on emission of air pollutant and the impacts on human health caused by smog were not accurate and reliable; some believed that these data were forged by Chai Jing. Some argued that Chai Jing, through her celebrity social status, was speaking for the well-off middle-class elites instead of for the welfare of ordinary citizens and the low-income groups, because the latter have less capacity to adapt to air pollution. Some held doubts on the credibility of Chai Jing’s maternal position that relates the air pollution with her baby’s medical operation.
Under the Dome being aired via the People’s Daily Online–the flagship website of the Communist Party of China–indicated that the documentary may have received official support, and been facilitating government environmental policy or speaking for official interests. As a former China Central Television (CCTV) anchorwoman and investigative journalist, Chai Jing had access to resources and gained support from both official web-channels and experts from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the National Energy Administration. After the release, government officials also held positive attitude towards the documentary. China's environmental protection minister, Chen Jining, praised that the documentary as "worthy of admiration" just after the release. He compared it with Rachel Carson's book of 1962, Silent Spring, which is said to have given impetus to the environmental movement in the United States. 
However, four days after the release, Under the Dome was censored and taken down from social media by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, the same media hierarchy which supported the production of the documentary. It was said that this abrupt ban was because that the central government was faced with the pressure of public perception seeing smog as an urgent and serious problem, and fear of collective reaction online that asked for major changes in relevant legislation.
Industry and business
On 2 March, the first weekday after the documentary's release, the stocks of several environmental companies traded up to ten percent higher. The stocks were in companies involved in pollutant treatment, air quality monitoring and green technology, including Sail Hero, Top Resource Conservation Engineering, LongKing Environmental and Create Technology & Science. In Hong Kong, the shares of BYD Company, a maker of electric vehicles, rose nearly seven percent.
Social Media and Censorship in China
The contradictory actions of the government on Under the Dome–from supportive to against–implies that social media and censorship under China’s current conditions appear paradoxical and competitive in a political fashion.
Online social media provides a terrain where multimedia works can be publicized and spread at an unprecedented level of speed; where officials and netizens can negotiate and dispute; where a ‘green public sphere’, which is supposed to foster political debate and affect policy-making can be facilitated. In Chai Jing's case, virtual online space and social media channels are open to voices of opinion, but closed down at the prospect of potential action. As King (2013) says:" The purpose of the censorship program is not to suppress criticism of the state or the Communist Party, but rather to reduce the probability of collective action by clipping social ties whenever any collective movements are in evidence or expected". In China, the government still manipulates the contents and the flow of information on the Internet. The socio-political constraint stopped the viral spread of Under the Dome and eradicated potential collective actions of the public.
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