Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  78 minutes
Date:  2010
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English; Mandarin / English subtitles
Color/BW:  Color / Black and White
Closed captioning available


Curator imageKen Berthel, Assistant Professor of Chinese, Whittier College

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Waking the Green Tiger

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Seen through the eyes of activists, farmers, and journalists, Waking the Green Tiger follows an extraordinary, unprecedented, and successful campaign to stop a huge dam project on the upper Yangtze river in the high mountains of southwestern China. 

Waking the Green Tiger


This film was chosen by Ken Berthel, Assistant Professor of Chinese, Whittier College

Why I selected this film

Waking the Green Tiger frames the unprecedented success of a grassroots environmental movement as a pivotal moment in the context of the detrimental environmental practices of the recent past, suggesting that this success might represent a foothold for a more burgeoning democratic movement. The film can serve as an excellent jumping-off point for a number of important topics, including environmental justice, political activism, Chinese environmental history, and the power of documentary filmmaking.

Marcuse’s film will appeal to educators who wish to focus on environmental justice, tensions between rising demands for energy and environmental protection, and the power of grassroots movements to effect unexpected outcomes in political contexts as challenging as the one in contemporary China. Waking the Green Tiger will be relevant for courses in environmental studies, Chinese cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, political science, law, and film, among others.

Teacher's guide

Please see the teacher's guide for maps, background information and suggested subjects, questions and activities.


Seen through the eyes of activists, farmers, and journalists, Waking the Green Tiger follows an extraordinary campaign to stop a massive dam project on the Upper Yangtze River in southwestern China that would displace 100,000 people.

Featuring astonishing archival footage never seen outside China and interviews with witnesses and a government insider, the documentary also tells the history of Chairman Mao’s campaigns to conquer nature in the name of progress.

An environmental movement takes root when a new environmental law is passed, and for the first time in China’s history, ordinary citizens have the democratic right to speak out and take part in government decisions. Activists test this new freedom and save a river. The movement they trigger has the potential to transform China.

The environmental justice focus of the film

The film deals with questions of individual and local group agency over the environmental conditions in which they live, with reference to associated tensions that arise among farmers, non-governmental organizations,hydroelectric power profiteers, and government agencies.

October 2020:
For an update on the current status of dam construction and the obstacles faced by NGOs on the upper Yangtze see


Waking the Green Tiger is wonderful, an amazing story that opens an unexpected window onto China. - Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress

…the perfect balance between information and entertainment, condensing several decades of history into a rousing portrait of China’s emerging green movement. — Brett Kessler, ABC 7.com

Review for Video Librarian by Isadora Lambert 

Four stars  ****

This film would be especially impactful to students and library patrons interested in topics like environmental justice, history, Asian studies, geography, political science, and anthropology.

Waking the Green Tiger: A Green Movement Rises in China  is an interesting documentary that examines the unique environmental situation in China. The film follows activist opposition to the construction of twenty-one dams along the three rivers in the Yunnan Provence. These dams infringe upon the unique biodiversity and traditional farming practices in the Yunnan Provence. More than half of the plant and animal species in China can be found in this area, including rare golden monkeys. These dams would also force thousands of farmers to lose their land.

Waking the Green Tiger does an excellent job of explaining the history of environmental destruction in China caused by the regime of Chairman Mao. Mao’s “Man Must Conqueror Nature” campaign prioritized industrial development, encouraging the destruction of forests to make way for steel production. This campaign also encouraged the destruction of pests, urging citizens to kill sparrows that ate grain. However, without the sparrows to kill insects that also ate the grain, the crops failed and millions of people died of famine. This fascinating history is bolstered with archival footage and propaganda posters.

In 2004, a group of activists gained national attention and started a new age of green activism in China. The passage of the New Environmental Assessment Law allowed citizens the right to discuss and question the environmental impact of industrial development. Waking the Green Tiger follows the plight of activists enacting their right to challenge the government.

The documentary presents testimonies from several key figures in the environmental movement, including Qu Geping, China’s former director of environmental protection. Activists, journalists, and farmers are also interviewed, presenting a well-rounded portrait of the environmental movement. The film is shown through the perspective of these activists, placing the viewer inside their world. This viewpoint is often unseen, as censorship laws in China previously prevented documentaries like this from being made.

Waking the Green Tiger captures the spirit of the grassroot environmental movement, emphasizing both how much progress has been made and the work that remains to be done to protect China’s natural environments.

What academic library shelves would this title be on?

This film would be especially impactful to students and library patrons interested in topics like environmental justice, history, Asian studies, geography, political science, and anthropology.

How does this film contribute to a discussion of environmental or climate justice, and/or to environmental literacy? 

Waking the Green Tiger contributes to discussions of environmental literacy by showing how the actions of everyday people can impact the environmental health of a nation. 

Can this film be used in a library education program?

The film is available in a full-length 78-minute version along with a teacher’s guide. Global Environmental Justice also provides 18 minutes of selected excerpts that would be ideal for a library education program.


Ifeng Green China Film Award 2013
Award of Merit for Environmental Journalism Cinema for Peace, Berlin
Finalist, International Green Film Award
Shanghai International Film Festival
   Official Selection
Planet in Focus
  Best Canadian Feature Documentary
Writer’s Guild of Canada, 2012 Canadian Screenwriting Awards
  Best Documentary
Spokane International FF Jury Award
  Silver SpIFFy, Documentary Category
Rio de Janeiro filmambiente 2012 International Festival of Environmental Films
   Special Award for films about the importance of learning from mistakes and the power of society
Journalistic Relevance Award from the Brazilian Network of Environmental Journalists.
Colorado Environmental Film Festival Best of Festival 2013
Vancouver International Film Festival
  Audience Recognition: Top Ten Canadian Films Award 
The Grantham Prize Honoring exceptional environmental journalism
  2012 Award of Special Merit Recipients Gary Marcuse, Betsy Carson, & Shi Lihong


Main credits

Marcuse, Gary (film director)
Marcuse, Gary (film producer)
Marcuse, Gary (screenwriter)
Carson, Betsy (film producer)
Hewlett, David (narrator)

Other credits

Editor, Stuart De Jong; cinematographer, Rolf Cutts; composers, Henry Heillig, Doug Wilde; consultant, Judith Shapiro.

Distributor credits

Betsy Carson and Gary Marcuse

Gary Marcuse

Location Sound

Sound Supervisor /Mixer

Production Management Services

Second Unit Director


Docuseek subjects

Gender Studies
Environmental Justice
Asian Studies
Anthropology and Archaeology
Politics and Political Science
Rivers and Lakes
Dams and Hydroelectricity
Government Policy
Communication and Media Studies
Journalism and the Press
Agriculture and Food
Citizenship, Social Movements and Activism
Human Rights
Global / International Studies
Film and Video Studies
Indigenous Studies
Habitat Destruction
Resource Planning and Management
East Asia
Women's Studies
Environmental Geography
Religion and Spirituality
Endangered Species and Extinction

Distributor subjects

Animal Rights
Asian Studies
Communication and Media Studies
Conflict Resolution
ecosystem restoration
Environmental Anthropology
Environmental Geography
Environmental History
Environmental Justice
Environmental Law
Film and Video Studies
Gender Studies
Grasslands and Prairies
Habitat Loss
Human Rights
Human Rights Law
Indigenous Studies
Political Ecology


dams; Women; Gender; Chairman Mao; MA Jun; SHI Lihong; YU Xiaogang; LIU Jianqiang; DENG Xiaoping; Kunming; Beijing; Yunnan; Shangri La; Lijiang; QU Geping; Great Leap Forward; Cultural Revolution; Kunming; Dianchi Lake; Loess Plateau; Ecosystem restoration; solar power; wind power; Jinshajiang; Upper Yangtze; Manwan Dam; Tiger Leaping Gorge dam; China Ministry of Environment; Environmental Law; Friends of Nature; LIANG Xiaoyan; golden monkeys; Judith Shapiro; "Mao's War Against Nature"; XI Zhinong; Wild China Films; WANG Yongchen; GE Quanxiao; XIAO Liangzhong; "Voice of an Angry River"; Gary Marcuse; Man Must Conquer Nature; Face to Face Media; Nu River Valley; Yunnan Province; Mekong River Valley; Yangtze River Valley; Xiaoshaba Village; "Waking the Green Tiger"; Global Environmental Justice; women; gender;

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