Last weekend, just before an important national party congress meeting, former state media newscaster Chai Jing released her environmental video, 穹顶之下 (qióng dǐng zhī xià, or Under the Dome). By midweek, it had been viewed online more than 15 million times, and by Friday, hundreds of millions of times.
Then it disappeared from China’s video streaming websites. Any residual links just give an error message saying the video is no longer available.
Although Chai had obtained permission to share the self-produced video from government officials, it seems the widespread popularity of the film caught them off-guard. Discussion of the film is still being permitted online for now. Comments critical of the central government are being deleted, however.
Although the movie first appeared with Chinese subtitles, common in China with scores of local languages, there were no complete English subtitles until Friday. Organized by a Chinese 12th grader and an expat, an international team translated the one hour and forty minutes of Chinese subtitles into English. The result can be seen on YouTube.
The future of the film, which Chai spent a year researching, within China is unclear. It is sharply critical of the way local officials deal with industrial polluters, which by extension is critical of the national government.
Chai explains in the film that her baby’s prenatal benign tumor spurred her into delving into China’s environmental nightmare. Spending 1 million yuan ($167,000) of her own money, Chai visited several of the most polluted areas in China, talking to residents, businessmen and government officials.
A 12-year veteran of China Central Television, Chai left the state media TV outlet to care for her daughter. She has a reputation of a being a tough reporter, having covered the SARS epidemic in southern China and the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan on site, at some risk to her own health.
China’s 600 million Internet users by now have probably downloaded her video to their computers and are sharing it offline, so its impact will still be felt for many weeks more.