Chai Jing’s ‘Under the Dome’ – a mother’s crusade against pollution in China
A documentary on #pollution in China has become one of the biggest online hits of the year in a very short time. “Under the Dome” by Chai Jing, a former CCTV reporter and hostess, is a sobering look at the growing problem of pollution in the country.
Thirty-nine-year-old Chai quit her job last year in order to take care of her daughter. The child had been diagnosed with a benign tumor while in the womb and had undergone surgery soon after she was born.
At the time that Chai became pregnant, air pollution was becoming one of the biggest concerns in China. As a new mother devoted to taking care of her child, Chai began to develop deep concerns about the haze. She wondered that there would come a time when her daughter would ask about the #haze - what caused it? why was it keeping her locked inside the house?
“Before I became a mother…I was only responsible for my life. But when I had my daughter, I realized that I have a connection with the future, and a responsibility for it too. Without such an emotional motive, it would be rather difficult for me to accomplish this (the documentary),” Chai said in an interview with People.com.cn.
With that maternal instinct driving her, Chai decided to seek the answers to three key questions: “What is haze? Where does it come from? And what shall we do?”
The product of that inquiry is the 103-minute-long “Under the Dome”, in which she analyzes the root causes of air pollution in China, how it affects people and what can be done to deal with it.
Delving into the history of the problem, Chai also uncovers some rather troubling details about the prevalence of severe air pollution in the country and the lack of information regarding it.
For instance, she interviews Tang Xiaoyan, a former air quality assurance team leader during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, who shared the PM2.5 data from a month in 2004. The data shows that severe air pollution was prevalent then too, and on one given day, it had forced a shutdown of the airport. However, back then, the shutdown was blamed on the “fog.”
“As you see, there is complete lack of awareness about air pollution across the society,” Chai says in the documentary.
While working on the documentary over the past year, Chai conducted extensive field research, consulted documents and met with several specialists.
Among the people that she met are names like Xie Zhenhua, former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Han Jun, deputy director of general office for the Central Leading Group on Finance and Economic and Edward Davey, U.K.’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
She says that all of the officials she met were open to answering the questions that she raised, and it is this positive attitude that gives her hope that there will be improvements when it comes to the environment in China in the future.
Towards that effort, Chai has also sent all the materials she collected through one-on-one interviews to the Law Committee of the 12th National People’s Congress, hoping that it might help in revisions to anti-pollution regulations.
“I think the attitude of the lawmakers and policymakers should be: the reforms couldn’t come at a better time in China. We need to let the public be better informed, engage, discuss and reach a consensus. The public is one of the core stakeholders in the fight against air pollution. The common people clearly know the source of the pollution. And no one cares more about our homeland than the people themselves,” Chai added.
Given that attitude, the documentary also encourages people to become whistleblowers when they come across behavior that violates pollution norms. She calls on them to express their complaints and thereby safeguard their rights and interests.
In just a day since it was posted online, Chai’s documentary has garnered millions upon millions of views, making it one of the most discussed topics on social media.
“It’s shocking, and I want to cry. We don’t need China to be the world’s no.1. Can we slow down the economic growth…, and give more importance to pollution control, higher than the military development. Let the environment researchers have better treatment than officials and truly to eradicate pollution… This is not only our future or China’s future but also humanity’s,” @yueyingsufang.
“I understand the haze now… it’s horrible…and is everywhere…Don’t doubt that we can’t change it! When we enjoy a healthy environment, we have an obligation to protect it! Sometimes we just watch it happening, though we know the severity, like the food safety issue, which is as bad as the haze…” @yingyangbuliang.
“The horrible thing is that we are getting accustomed to the haze. See what we should do ‘under the dome’,” @Hudie.