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Millions of Chinese Watched an Environmental Documentary This Weekend — and the Government Is Happy About It

Created by a former Chinese television reporter, 'Under the Dome' depicts the country's notoriously bad air quality and could bring about greater scrutiny of government environmental policies.

by VICE News
Mar 2 2015, 6:00pm

Image via YouTube

Nearly a decade after the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's piece of agitprop that elevated public scrutiny of climate change, a Chinese environmental documentary posted on-line over the weekend has touched a nerve, attracting millions of viewers — and praise from government officials.

Chai Jing, who left China's state television network CCTV in 2013, released on Saturday the 104-minute film, titled Under the Dome. In it, Chai relates her transformation from being apathetic toward environmental issues to intensely fearful about the consequences air pollution, after her daughter developed a benign tumor while in the womb.

The strong emotional theme of her story, combined with widespread, public concern about China's air quality, means the film has attracted significant attention. By Monday, over 20 million viewers had watched the documentary on Youku, a Chinese video-sharing site.

While Chinese environmental activists have often faced government repression, Chai's documentary has won plaudits from officials. Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining compared the film to Rachel Carson's landmark 1962 book about pesticides Silent Spring.

"I think this work has an important role in promoting public awareness of environmental health issues," Chen said. "So I'm particularly pleased about this event."

In January, Beijing's mayor said the capital was "not a livable city," as air pollution in the capital reached levels 20 times the World Health Organization's recommended limits. In February, the government announced that only eight of China's 74 major city's met air quality requirements. 

Related: Only eight of China's 74 major cities passed government air quality tests