MESYM Documentary Night #22: Under the Dome

MESYM’s Documentary Night is held every 2nd Tuesday of each month. Everyone is invited to come hang out, watch a documentary, meet like-minded friends and take part in the discussion. Admission is free!

For our April event we will screen Under the Dome (original in Chinese: 穹顶之下), former CCTV news anchor Chai Jing‘s powerful, self-funded documentary about smog in China. The 104-minute video has swept the Chinese Internet, receiving over 150 million views within one week of its release, and being compared to Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.


Discussion led by Dr. Helena Varkkey, Senior Lecturer from the University of Malaya

Dr. Helena Varkkey is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, University of Malaya. A marriage of her two fields of interest, environmental politics and Southeast Asia, has led to research and writing on the politics of transboundary haze in the region. Dr. Helena’s approach to this issue is one of political economy, observing the link between patronage in the agribusiness sector, especially the oil palm industry, and haze-producing fires.

Join the event on our Facebook Group.

About Under the Dome

(Above: small extract from the film)

Synopsis (taken from China Digital Times):

“Under the Dome” is presented in a style similar to a TED Talk, in which Chai addresses a live audience as a casual, engaging storyteller. In both the documentary and an interview with People’s Daily Online, Chai Jing mentioned that the project was inspired by the lung illness of her newborn daughter. The personal aspect of the film also helped it reach a wider audience.

The film was made after a year of investigation. It attempts to answer three simple questions: 1. What is smog? 2. Where does it come from? 3. What should we do about it? Using a variety of pictures, video footage, scientific data, and interviews with researchers and government officials, the documentary identifies the wide usage of fossil fuels and the lack of government oversight as the primary reasons behind the heavy smog in China. It calls for government action in regulating polluters and improving air quality.

“Under the Dome” is not Chai Jing’s first environmental project. Previously, her coverage of pollution caused by coal mining in Shanxi and “black lung disease” among coal miners helped her gain national recognition as an environmental advocate. Her new project, which combines a science lecture with animation, investigative reporting, and personal story-telling, also brings to mind Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Official Reaction to the film

Despite demonstrating the failure of China’s regulations on pollution, the Chinese government at first did not censor the film. Instead, the People’s Daily reposted the film alongside an interview with Chai, while Chen Jining, the recently-appointed minister for environmental protection, praised the film, comparing its significance with Silent Spring, the 1962 book by US environmentalist Rachel Carson. However, within a week, the Communist Party’s publicity department confidentially ordered the film to be removed. An employee of China Business News was suspended for leaking the order.

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