News - March 12, 2015

Meanwhile in ... China

Koen Guiking

In the news: critical documentaries are usually censored in China. But not Under the Dome. Filmmaker (and mother) Chai Jing shows how Chinese daily life is affected by massive amounts of smog. The Chinese government even welcomes this critical documentary as a contribution to the battle with polluting industries.

Commentary by Yang Li, MSc Animal Nutrition en Qiaona Zhang,  MSc Molecular Life Sciences 

‘The Chinese have been talking about air pollution for a long time, but thanks to this film the whole country is talking about it now,’ says Yang. ‘The filmmaker is a famous former newsreader who has now made a film of her own,’ adds Qiaona. Yang: And it is a touching story because her own little girl has lung cancer. It is not certain that the tumour was caused by air pollution, but nobody would be surprised if it was. There are places in China that are known as ‘cancer villages’ because the incidence of cancer is so high. There is a lot of smog in those places, but the pollution of the water supply in villages is perhaps an even bigger problem. That is mainly the fault of the chemical industry, but the livestock industry is partly responsible too.’

Yang: ‘The pollution is driving people to emigrate. There are also pregnant women who go to Europe or the US to give birth somewhere with clean air. For the sake of their baby’s health.’ Qiaona: ‘In the city where I grew up, the pollution is not so bad, but where I studied, in Jinan, I used to check the air quality online. You could see every day whether the weather conditions were good for jogging, for example.’

Qiaona: ‘A few years ago the government would not have allowed this video to be shown, because it could be bad for China’s image. The national government has been trying to combat pollution for as long as I can remember, but in vain. Yang: ‘The national government makes policy and laws, but companies and local governments focus on economic growth and not on the environment. The minister of Environmental Affairs is happy with the documentary because now at last the topic is high on the agenda.’