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A documentary about China’s pollution woes, made by a former news anchor from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), has notched up more than 200 million clicks online and prompted a major bout of soul-searching about the long-term effects of pollution.
The movie by Chai Jing, which isn’t screening in movie theaters, is critical of China’s failure to combat environmental disaster and comes at a time of widespread public concern about the health effects of smog and other environmental hazards.
The documentary, Under the Dome, has been available on most online video sites and has not been removed since first being posted on Saturday, although some articles praising the film have been deleted by censors.
Last month, data from the environmental protection ministry showed that 90 percent of Chinese cities failed to meet government standards. Beijing‘s mayor Wang Anshun said smog had made the capital “unlivable.”
Running at 104 minutes, shot like a TED talk and with echoes of Al Gore‘s An Inconvenient Truth, Chai’s film discusses the damaging impact of pollution on health, and she discusses how her own infant daughter had to have an operation straight after birth to remove a benign tumor.
“This is a personal issue between me and the smog,” Chai says in the movie.
The movie has reached more than 200 million views on Chinese websites, not counting Wechat or other social media, which makes for nearly one-third of China’s online population of 649 million.
Newly installed environment minister Chen Jining said the film reminded him of U.S. environmentalist Rachel Carson‘s book Silent Spring, which prompted a major surge in environmental awareness. “This documentary raised public awareness of the importance of environmental issues which cause health problems. It has a special meaning,” Chen told a news conference.
Pollution is likely to be one of the main issues at this week’s National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s annual parliamentary session, which starts on Thursday. The fact that the documentary hasn’t been banned suggests the government is allowing debate on environmental issues ahead of the session in Beijing.
The documentary singles out state-owned oil and gas giants PetroChina and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. for particular criticism.
Graphic footage and charts about cancer rates have struck a chord with online viewers. “Thanks Chai Jing,” wrote a Web commentator using the name Aichi Yingtao de Xiao Wanzi. “She is a responsible media representative. The documentary shows pollution and how it affects our health. We might not be able to escape from the pollution, but we should appreciate that she told the normal people the truth.”
Last year, China declared “war on pollution” amid growing dissatisfaction about the foul air in most Chinese cities and fears about the long-term health effects. Part of the problem is China’s reliance on coal — consumption in the province of Hebei reached 313 million tons in 2012 and is a major contributor to smog.
Grim as the data is, there has been an improvement from 2013, when 96 percent of the surveyed cities failed to meet standards.
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