In less than a few days, renowned investigative reporter Chai Ling has managed to elevate the life-threatening issue of China's crippling air pollution to a level of awareness never before seen. Titled "Under the Dome," the 103-minute film has been viewed more than 100 million times since its release on February 28; a viral sensation with few equals.
Chai, a well-known former state television reporter, says she was inspired to look hard at the environmental crisis unfolding in China after her unborn child was found to be carrying a benign tumor in her womb.
“I’d never felt afraid of pollution before, and never wore a mask no matter where,” she says in the video. “But when you carry a life in you, what she breathes, eats and drinks are all your responsibility, and then you feel the fear.”
Similar to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," Chai paces along a dark stage while showing charts, on-the-scene videos, and interviews with government officials and experts on the health and environmental consequences of air pollution. The film is also critical of China's government, detailing how rapid development and lax regulation has jeopardized human health and safety.
Investigative reporter Chai Ling in "Under the Dome." (Photo: "Under the Dome")
According to The Guardian, prominent Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun described the documentary as “one of the most important pieces of public awareness of all time by the Chinese media.”
Completely self-funded for $160,000, "Under the Dome"'s most surprising audience is the Chinese government, which has not moved to remove the film from video-sharing sites or censor forums discussing its significance. Even the newly appointed minister of environmental protection, Chen Jining, did not hold back on his praise for the documentary; saying it reflected "growing public concern over environmental protection and threats to human health."
A report last month found that 90 percent of China's cities failed to meet air standards in 2014, with 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths tied to the toxic air. A study last year named Beijing as almost “uninhabitable for human beings,” with pollution much worse than the average level. As Ma Jun points out, "Under the Dome" comes at a time when China's government is feeling the pressure to move quickly on the issue.
"The very fact that this gets a green light to go ahead to be aired and to allow nearly two days of intense communications, I think it already shows a willingness to face the problem rather than dodge it," she said.
Check out a translated version of "Under the Dome" below.
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