China’s enviornment, as documented by celebrity journalist Chai Jing in her viral video ‘Under the Dome,’ is currently in peril as pollution and other environmental issues continue to plague many of its cities. The country’s industrial boom is now taking a toll on the natural environment.
Pedestrians wear masks as smog descends on Beijing | Image source: telegraph.co.uk
China’s environment minister vowed to provide more information to the public about the toxic air they breathe on Saturday, less than 24 hours after Communist Party censors purged a viral film about smog from the internet.
Under the Dome, a documentary by celebrity journalist Chai Jing, took China by storm this week, stirring up heated debate about the state of the environment. In just a few days, the film – dubbed China’s answer to An Inconvenient Truth – was watched more than 200 million times.
Chen Jining, the environment minister, was among those who initially heaped praise on the project, comparing it to Silent Spring, a seminal 1962 book that is credited with starting the environmental movement in the United States.
However, less than a week after Under the Dome was released, it began mysteriously vanishing from Chinese websites on Friday afternoon after the Communist Party decided that public criticism had gone too far.
The video’s disappearance – sarcastically attributed by one academic to “gremlins” but in truth the result of a directive from propaganda chiefs in Beijing – placed China’s newly appointed environment minister in a fix.
He was scheduled to meet the media on Saturday afternoon, as part of a round of carefully choreographed “press conferences” held during the National People’s Congress, China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament. Questions about Under the Dome might have been expected.
Yet there was not a single mention of the film – or its fate – during the session. Organisers permitted 12 questions during the apparently scripted 70-minute event, but not one referred to biggest environmental story of the week.
China’s leaders offered some tough rhetoric on the environment this week, as more than 3,000 delegates joined the annual political summit. “We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions,” said President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party chief, on Friday. He spoke as a thick smog descended over Beijing.
One day earlier, Li Keqiang, the prime minister, told the NPC’s opening session: “Environmental pollution is a blight on people’s quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts. We must fight it with all our might.”
Chen Jining, the environment minister, repeated those promises on Saturday, admitting he felt “uneasy” about the state of his country’s skies. Asked if he had the power to defeat the smog, he said: “Can we do it? Yes we can – but it will be very difficult.”
Mr Chen, who studied at Imperial College London during the 1990s, claimed China was facing an “unprecedented conflict between development and environmental protection”. He said that “extra effort” was needed to solve the problem. “We will deal with today’s crisis to avoid a bigger crisis tomorrow,” he promised.
Chinese state media was quick to report those pledges, with Xinhua, the official news agency, publishing four stories about the minister’s press conference on its website. One of those articles heralded Mr Chen’s commitment to “enhance information transparency and guarantee the public’s rights to supervise the fight against air pollution”.
The Communist Party then decided to erase a film that sought to do just that. “The real pollution is bad governance,” one user of Weibo, China’s Twitter, commented on Friday night as censors purged Under the Dome from the internet. “If we cannot get rid of those bad people, the smog will always hang over us.”
Janique Goff is a major supporter of green initiatives. Find out more about the projects she is part of here.