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March 5th, 2015:

Chai Ling’s documentary on pollution brings out the stark truth

Buildings amid heavy air pollution, in Wuhan, Hubei. Photo: Reuters

Buildings amid heavy air pollution, in Wuhan, Hubei. Photo: Reuters

Interestingly, an online documentary on air pollution has become an instant hit on the mainland. Produced by former CCTV news presenter Chai Jing, the 103-minute video was estimated to have drawn hundreds of millions of viewers across the nation within days. It even prompted a personal note of thanks from the new environment protection chief and boosted trading of environment-related shares in the stock market. Expectations are running high that more anti-pollution measures will be announced during the annual assemblies for lawmakers and political advisers in Beijing.

Entitled Under the Dome, the report resembles the slide-show format of An Inconvenient Truth – a documentary on global warming by former US vice-president Al Gore in 2006. Chai, a 39-year-old mother, took up the smog issue after her baby girl was diagnosed with a tumour before birth, according to an interview on People’s Daily website. The documentary points fingers at powerful oil companies and weak enforcement, saying half a million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. The criticisms and allegations are not groundbreaking; they were even dismissed as unscientific by critics and the companies involved. But the truth remains that 90 per cent of the 161 cities where air quality is monitored failed to meet official standards in 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. With a celebrity background and a personal touch to a burning issue affecting everyone, Chai has struck a chord with her powerful statement: “I am not afraid of death. But I don’t want to live on like this.”

Equally controversial is the way the video came about. The former journalist reportedly spent about one million yuan (HK$1.26 million) on the production. That it has received initial positive response from state media and the government has raised much speculation. An official gag order for mainland media finally came on Tuesday, apparently to avoid “blurring the focus” of the two assemblies in the capital. Whatever the circumstances, it is to be hoped that the documentary will spur officials to do more in cleaning up the air.

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