Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog


The exception to the rule (mask-wearing in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China)

Mask Wearing (Kunming, Yunnan Province, China

Almost a year ago I wrote in my posting “China as I See it“:

[I]t is not uncommon to see city-dwellers wearing face masks to protect themselves from dust, pollution, and germs in general. All across China, cities are experiencing extraordinarily high levels of air pollution. In Kunming, (where pollution levels are somewhat lower than in many other cities in the country), most people do not wear masks that filter pollution particulate matter. Instead, fashionable face masks are often worn as accessories; people want to look good while trying to avoid dust from ongoing construction, germs, and smog. When the pollution is “high” it looks as though there is fog outside. I have experienced this grey/yellow atmosphere in Beijing, produced by extremely dangerous levels of pollution (one can barely see a few blocks away). My teachers claim, as do many others, that it is just fog, but I have noticed that I am sensitive to the air quality as it worsens, and I monitor the air quality index so I know it is definitely not fog when the mountains surrounding the city, or the tall buildings in the distance, are shrouded in a cloud of grey. I bought myself approved masks for heavy pollution conditions, but the majority of the Chinese population buys its masks in convenience stores or other stores where the fashionable models are available. Very few people wear masks that really protect them – although this is beginning to change, thankfully. It’s a small first step because, of course, the greater issue of the pollution itself needs to be addressed.

In Kunming, where I lived from September 2013 until March 2014 and where the air was relatively clear and clean (you could actually see the stars at night), pollution levels would occasionally go above 150 – which means the air quality is unhealthy and that “[e]veryone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” according to http://aqicn.org ). I sometimes found it insufferable. Yet, compared to other areas in China, the air in Kunming was relatively breathable.

Exception to the Rule (most people who drive motorbikes in Kunming still do not wear masks - at least not in early 2014)

Mask Wearing (Many people who drive motorbikes in Kunming still do not wear masks – at least not in early 2014)

Walking Kunming

Walking Kunming (During my six months in Kunming it felt as everyone wore a mask but when I looked through my photographs it was practically impossible to find anyone wearing a mask as the three photos in this blog posting attest to.)

Flying over Beijing the pollution is like a wall that one collides with. As you get closer, suddenly, you can barely see a thing outside the airplane window – and what you do see is masked in a thick haze of yellow. This situation is tragic and China has claimed that it wants to reduce its pollution by 2017. Unfortunately, the government has barely taken a stab at it and has censored Chai Jing’s film, Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog, which *was* posted on Youku and Tencent until about a week ago (it is still available on YouTube – a site that is blocked in China). This film could have had a key role in promoting public awareness to pollution’s environmental and health issues. No longer.

Yaxue Cao, the editor of the website China Change, comments in his article Under the China Dome – A Reality Check: “The film galvanized public opinion and consolidated its awareness to an unprecedented level. It peeled apart the multi-faceted causes of pollution. It is a mobilization of the public, and it sets expectations for a war against environmental disasters. The film works on many layers of the public psyche, and not all of them are welcomed by the government. This probably explains why it was spectacularly promoted and then shut down.”

And another article in China Change: The Four Forces of China’s Politics of Smog, by  Wu Qiang.

I can only hope the Chinese block of this film is lifted. If you are reading this, however, YOU can watch it: Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog

4 thoughts on “Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog

  1. Ruthi

    I was actually amazed that it didn’t get blocked immediately.I have a friend who is going to do a Masters in Environmental studies here and she cannot see this film.That pretty much sums up how ludicrous things are getting.Last year we still had Google Maps,Gmail and Play Store,and now we can no longer access those.

    1. Tamar Granovsky Post author

      so crazy. a masters degree in china on environmental studies and one cannot get access to information. not good, really. you want to laugh and cry at the same time.

  2. Michelle

    Hi Tamar, I heard a different story regarding “Under the Dome”. I heard that in China, local governments could be powerful and refuse to change due to their concerns to support local employment. The central government is very committed to fight pollution, so utilize this film to entice public support, and put pressure on local governments to change. I heard that the Central government would very much like to fight pollution because health of the next generation was very important in the their eyes. In a way, they were smart to use this film to make what they wanted to change. It is all about politics, not so simple as it looks.

    1. Tamar Granovsky Post author

      of course it was about politics but the fact that the journalist had to skirt around certain issues to not offend the government so that she could have the film approved…. and the fact that it was censored in the end does not bode well (take not of ruthi’s comment about her friend who cannot see the film and she is studying environmental studies in china). thankfully millions did get to see the film but that is nothing in a country with such a large population. a drop in the bucket as they say.


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