Life under the dome

A documentary on the pollution in China has racked up more than two million views on the internet in just a few days, hopefully proving...


A documentary on the pollution in China has racked up more than two million views on the internet in just a few days, hopefully proving that China’s masses have awoken to the need for a quick fix for the problem. The documentary is a slickly produced film created by a renowned Chinese journalist, Chai Jing, and is entitled “Under the Dome” in what appears to be a reference to a Stephen King book of a similar name.

The documentary, funded by Chai, looks at how the past 30 years of uncontrolled and breakneck industrialisation designed to make China a world power has devastated the country’s environment. It firmly blames the government for not doing more to rein in the polluters as the nation strived for levels of consumerism that took centuries to achieve in more developed economies.

The documentary was filmed in front of a studio audience where Chai stood in front of a large screen showing images of the pollution and interviews with some of those affected and of her visits to some of the sites within China that are most badly afflicted. Chai says she was inspired to do the film out of concern for the effect of the pollution on her young daughter’s health. At times the film does appear to be very personal, especially when Chai interviews a six-year-old girl in Shan Xi, a town that has been named and shamed as being one of the most polluted in the world:

“Have you ever seen the stars?” Chai asks the girl. “No” is the answer.

“Have you ever seen a blue sky?” Chai then asks. “ I have seen a sky that is a little blue,” the girl tells her.

“But have you ever seen white clouds?”

“No,” the little girl replies with a sigh.

Although the film tries not to be overly critical of the State at times, Chai is deeply critical of the lax environmental laws. At one point in the film she asks an inspector why a polluting coal-burning steel factory cannot be shut down even after it is a proven polluter; the answer is astonishingly blunt: “It just doesn’t work to sacrifice employment for the environment.“

Under the Dome. Stephen King's Under the Dome is a book about a fictional town called Chester Mills where an impenetrable dome falls over the town in the opening chapter. A small plane crashes into the dome and explodes, a cow is cut in half by the dome and there is no getting in or out of the town. Families are separated, the emergency services are unreachable, and of course the food and fuel available is limited to what is there. Stephen King says that the town is not some sort of imaginary dystopian society but was inspired by realistic environmental concerns: “The Dome is a microcosm of life; we all live under the dome; we live on this little blue planet and so far as we know that’s all we’ve got. The resources that we’ve got are the resources that we’ve got, they’re finite”.

So far this year, there has been very little mention of the pollution in China, until this week that is. This doesn’t mean that it has gone away. The lung-clogging smog that is reducing life expectancy for anyone unfortunate enough to have been born in the North of the People’s Republic is still afflicting a third of the world’s population. Yet so far, this smog season we have heard little about it. Could we have become bored with the news or do we feel that it is in China and doesn’t impact us? It is important that we all think again - pollution doesn’t respect international borders; pollution doesn’t stay where it is belched into the sky. Pollution gradually makes its insidious way around the globe, slowly but surely clogging the lungs of all of us. Pollution is a global problem and none of us can afford to blithely ignore the appalling catastrophe that is happening in China.

The years of choking pollution does seem to have led to a groundswell of opposition to the “growth at any cost” model that the Central Government appears to have been following. The recent slowing of the Chinese economy has allowed the government to start a crackdown on the more serious polluters. Last November, the government pledged to produce 20% of the country’s energy with non-fossil fuel by 2030, double the current level; but at the rate the country is expanding, that means that there will be no decrease in the levels of pollution. Let us all hope that this documentary will ignite a debate within China and finally there will be a move to get serious with the polluters.

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