When former Chinese news anchor Chai Jing’s unborn daughter was diagnosed with a tumour, she quit her job and self-funded a $200,000 documentary on China’s smog problem.
The documentary, Under the Dome, racked up 75 million hits on the day it was released on Chinese video streaming sites, and as of 2 March it had been seen more than 200 million times, according to China Dialogue.
UPDATE: The film has been removed from Chinese websites, though is still available on Hong Kong-based news site ifeng.com and YouTube.
In Under the Dome Chai explains what smog is, how it is created, the harm it does and the problems associated with tackling the issue. Much of the blame is put at the feet of coal. Sixty per cent of China’s air pollution comes from burning coal and oil, she says, with China in 2013 burning more coal than all other countries combined.
Chai thinks that greener laws will lead to innovation and jobs growth, and judging by the overwhelming popularity of the documentary – which is now being referred to as China’s Silent Spring – and support expressed by China’s new environment minister Chen Jining, it seems the documentary could be another nail in coal’s coffin. It has already caused shares in anti-pollution technology to soar, according to China Dialogue.
Senior scholar at Tsinghua University’s Institute of Economics Li Jiangtao says the timing of the documentary is interesting, with the Communist Party-led congress starting this week, the appointment of a new environment minister and a growing anti-corruption drive.
The BBC reports that China is poised to introduce tough new regulations on China’s coal-burning polluters. Public pressure, it says, could help the ambitious reforms succeed in an environment where laws from the central government are “commonly ignored by lower level officials, particularly when they might affect economic growth”.