China has a severe environmental problem and it has dominated the start of the country’s annual legislative meeting. Leaders are trying to ease public fears about air, water, and soil contamination that threaten to disable the country’s economic rise, and are casting doubts on the ruling Communist Party.
Under the Dome, which was viewed by more than 200 million people in just a few days of its release, was removed yesterday from major Chinese websites, including Youku.com. Its disappearance coincides with the annual meeting of the legislature—the National People’s Congress (NPC).
President Xi Jinping said: “We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions,” at a meeting of NPC deputies from Jiangxi Province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Chai Jing, a former China Central Television reporter, financed and produced the film. She was concerned about the pollution and the impact it was having on people after her infant daughter needed surgery to remove a benign tumor.
Environment Minister Chen Jining compared it to Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 take on the environmental damage by the U.S. chemical industry that started a nationwide ban on the use of DDT in agriculture. Other government officials also openly praised the film after its release.
Watch in full the documentary Under the Dome: Investigating China’s Smog:
The full-length video was missing from streaming sites such as Youku, Sohu, and QQ.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the film had been pulled from websites on orders of the government, citing people familiar with the matter.
At a press conference today held as part of the NPC sessions and scheduled before the video’s disappearance, Chen was not asked about the documentary by reporters called on to raise questions. The minister echoed Xi’s pledge, saying China will use “tough measures” to fight smog, and he also said that the government would provide more transparency for its efforts to protect the environment, reported Bloomberg.
Earlier this week, the minister said he had sent Chai a text message to express his gratitude as she “raised public attention on the environment.” Chen said it reflected “growing public concern over environmental protection and threats to human health,” according to Xinhua.
Air pollution has become a focus of public anger in the past few years, as thick smog has blanketed large parts of the country, with many residents regularly wearing masks to try to protect themselves against the toxins. Ninety percent of the 161 cities whose air quality was monitored in 2014 failed to meet official standards, according to a report by National Bureau of Statistica of China last week.
Environmental degradation, not only of the air, but also of the water and land, is really becoming a problem for both the CCP and the Chinese people, and it won’t be going away anytime soon.