Can You Make Smog Invisible?

Sunnie Yi Ning '18

Contributing Writer

A new documentary posted online about China’s air pollution has already received 10 billion views in just its first week. The eye-opening educational documentary triggered heated debates and contradictory views from individuals all over the country. It was a headline in many newspapers and posted all over social media. But perhaps the most shocking thing for people around the world was that this documentary was not removed from the Internet until this Saturday.

The film, “Under The Dome,” was a phenomenal success. Produced by a former reporter for the state broadcaster, the film was made available on popular video websites. It has also been the focus of disagreements as to whether the documentary is beneficial for China. Notably, an environmental minister said he had texted the filmmaker, Chai Jing, to praise her work. In contrast, a high-ranking official of Petrochina, the state-run petroleum corporation, criticized the documentary as “ignorant” and “neglecting truth.” In a way, this shows the contradictory responses of officials to this documentary and might be one of the reasons the documentary has now been removed.

Another important reason for its removal may be the annual conference National People’s Congress, the country’s parliament and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory body. Although the conference has been reported to put most of its efforts and resources into environmental policies, officials worry that Under the Dome will encourage protests during the conference. Every year, Beijing puts effort into making sure that the city is safe and under control.

Although the documentary itself was removed, heated debates about it on social media persist. It is still ambiguous to me whether other “sensitive” debates, such as environmental issues, will eventually be banned from the Internet as well; however, the Chinese government has clearly realized the seriousness of pollution in China. The educational effect of the documentary is so profound that the smog cannot be hidden from people’s sight or attention. The environment has now become a leading topic of discussion among the Chinese and has put the government officials and industrial leaders on defense. I hope that during and after the conference, the government will do what President Xi Jinping has pledged: "to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy the ecology or environment, with no exceptions," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.