Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  103 minutes
Date:  2015
Genre:  Expository
Language:  Mandarin / English subtitles
Color/BW:  Color


Curator imageYifei Li, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU Shanghai; Global Network Assistant Professor, NYU

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Under the Dome

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Chai Jing is a former reporter for China Central Television (CCTV)  Under the Dome, directed and financed by Chai Jing, was the product of her year- long investigation into the sources of China's deadly smog. The film went viral and was viewed online more than 200 million times in two weeks before it was banned. 

Under the Dome

An excerpt from an interview with Chai Jing by People's Daily


Chai Jing is a former reporter for China Central Television (CCTV) Her film Under the Dome, directed and financed by Chai Jing was the product of her year- long investigation into the sources of smog in China. The film was motivated, Jing has said, by the discovery that her child had a tumor at the time of birth. The film was originally released online by Peoples' Daily, an official newspaper of the Communist Party and it caused a sensation. An estimated 200 million viewers watched it online before it was censored the following week. During that short widow in March 2015, People's Daily published an interview with Chai which was also taken down but not before it was translated into English by the California based China Digital Times.

People’s Daily Reporter (PDR): When you left China Central Television why did you choose smog as a topic to focus on?

Chai Jing (CJ): This was not a planned project. At the time my child was sick, and I wanted to spend some time with her and take care of her after I quit my job. I declined all job offers. While I was taking care of her, my feelings about the smog became more and more intense; my whole life was affected by it. Also, all of society was becoming more concerned about air pollution. Professional training and the instinct of a mother made me think it was necessary to answer these questions: What is smog? Where did it come from? What should we do about it? So I did this investigation.

PDR: How did you think of making this public?

CJ: At first I didn’t. I just searched for sources on my own and asked experts, hoping to solve some puzzles. I retrieved satellite pictures of North China over the past ten years. I could see that air pollution had existed for a long time. I live in Beijing, so why wasn’t I aware of that? ...

As a member of the media, I feel deeply responsible, because I was in Beijing yet I felt nothing. I had done a number of reports on pollution and I always felt as if pollution only exists when you see a chimney or a factory or a mine. So I was living in a big city and was feeling nothing.

Everyone learns out of ignorance. Now that I am aware of it, as a member of the media, I have the responsibility to explain it to everyone. Not to sensationalize, not to dodge, just to explain as clearly as possible. Because if people underestimate the difficulty and complexity of controlling pollution, they may lose patience and feel hopeless. If people treat the problem too lightly and leave it the way it is, that is even more unacceptable.

So if we explain the situation as clearly as possible, publicly, perhaps many people will change as I did, and contribute something to improve air quality... China has promised to reach its peak carbon emissions around 2030. Carbon emissions and smog have the same origin, and reducing one will have coordinated effects. Now that the peak is set, we must aim in the direction of a green, low-carbon, circular economy, and not continue down the road of GDP worship. A nationwide management system, energy strategy, and industrial structure will lead to change, which will hugely impact the life of the common people

The full interview can be found here: https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2015/03/translation-peoples-daily-interview-chai-jing/


Download the teacher's guide for Under the Dome (PDF)

Under the Dome

Film chapters or sequences


 Introduction to smog Chai Jing describes the extent of smog in China and her concerns for the health of her child.


What is haze? Discussion of PM 2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less) and chemicals in smog and their impact on health. An animation is used to illustrate the action of black carbon.


Mortality rates due to pollution, Impact of smog on elderly and children Impact is cumulative. Surgeons remove a tumor.


Growth of the problem Satellite views and archival footage since 1980 shows increase over time. The Increase in small particles poses great health risk.


Sources of smog : Coal A microscope reveals a variety of pollutants which increased globally from burning coal Wales, a source of coal, suffered from smog. Archival footage shows severity of smog. Crises lead to controls internationally, but Chinese consumption grows.


Documenting air quality in industrial regions, pointing out role and frequency of coal fired power plants and the varying quality of coal burned and the impact of ash and sulphur dioxide. Personal stories describe the impact on families.


Oil and gas. Pollution from cars grows. Bike lanes in Beijing are not respected. Diesel trucks are a major problem. Inspection show pollution controls missing and papers falsified. 90% are missing equipment. Manufacturers fail to install equipment. Failure to enforce leads to counterfeiting, to remain competitive.


 Fuel quality is poor. Government fails to impose higher standards. Why does the petrochemical industry get to establish standards? Who sets standards in other countries? A brief history on the setting of fuel prices and standards in China.


Freighters burn heavy oil and produce half the pollution (China has seven of the top ten ports.) The ships equal to half a million trucks. Undercover reporters investigates environmental compliance at diesel gas stations.


Subsidizing dirty industry
A collage of comments by plant owners operating illegally and officials who fail to act. Chai Jing describes the money saved by polluters and calculates the cost of making a ton of steel and questions government subsidies for polluting industries.


 A young girl contacts Chai Jing about the destruction of her home to make way for the expansion of a chemical plant. The same girl had been interviewed a decade earlier when she said she had never seen stars or white clouds. Expansion of plant is delayed as owner was taken away by the anti-corruption squad.


Urbanization is changing China. 80 villages a day disappear. Construction collage shows rapid change in Chai's home town from rural to urban. Overbuilding is wasteful and destructive. 20-30 pct sit empty. Chai's checks into an allegedly five-star hotel that has no lights and no guests. Collage shows rapid and unsustainable urban growth .


How to reduce smog: Cleaner transportation
Beijing once had blue skies. An official says it will take time, pointing to the Great Smog in London during the in the 1950s. Chai counters with the example of Los Angeles which has similarities to Beijing. Despite growth in traffic, emissions are greatly reduced. Laws are enforced to a greater degree. US pollution controls were contested by domestic automakers who then lost half the market to imported cars.


Reduce coal, use natural gas.
 As seen in archival footage, London pollution dropped 80% in first ten years. Natural gas is promising. But monopolies and corruption are impediments to achieving clean air and energy security.


 What can people do ? Data sharing is promising. Chai shows a phone app onscreen as an example of citizens exposing polluters. (see Lifting the Veil on Polluters in China also in this collection, for more information)  The revised Environmental Protection Act will allow environmental groups to sue polluters. An animation from Friends of Nature suggests "things you can do". Chai provides examples: reporting a construction site for dust, a restaurant for oil fumes. and a gas station for gas fumes.

1:38 40

Taking action feels good. Movements are built on actions of people. Collage reviews problem and efforts to create global change. Included are brief clips of Ma Jun (IPE.org), global activism, and protests against the Canadian tar sands.


Chai concludes with remarks about her daughter and a message: We must protect the planet as we protect our children.


Credits  END 1:43:57

" Under the DomeI has ignited a national debate across China, with millions stopping to pay attention to an issue that has been lingering in the air for years."

--Celia Hatton, BBC News 

"Under the Dome was an eye-opener for many, particularly given the unprecedented access the journalist gained on the ground. The documentary shows factories breaking regulations and authoritative figures who speak frankly, revealing the scathing truth that rules are simply ignored and that punishment stunts growth and costs people jobs.: will this film be China’s environmental awakening?" --   Yuan Ren, The Guardian



Main credits

Chai, Jing (filmmaker)

Distributor credits

Chai Jing

Full credits are found at the end of the film.

Docuseek2 subjects

Environmental Justice
Citizenship, Social Movements and Activism
Asian Studies
Communication and Media Studies
Film and Video Studies
Journalism and the Press
Environmental Law
Human Rights Law
Toxic Chemicals
Philosophy, Critical Thinking and Ethics
Business Ethics
Global / International Studies
Government Policy
Health, Healthcare, Medicine and Nursing
Environmental Health
Maternal and Child Health
Public Health
Fossil Fuels
United Kingdom
North American Studies
Occupational Health and Safety
Women's Studies

Distributor subjects

Asian Studies
Communications and Media Studies
Environmental Education
Environmental Health
Environmental Justice
Global Issues
Health and Health Care
North American Studies
Occupational Health and Safety
Public Health
Toxic Chemicals
Toxic Waste
United States
Youth and Family


"Under the Dome", Chai Jing, China, smog, particulates Edward Avol , PM2.5, lung cancer, pollutants, air quality index, fossil fuels, London's Great Smog, Tangshan, Hebei, Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), Jiangsu Province, lignite, environmental regulatio, environmental law, diesel, Sinopec, international standards, emission standards, Tsinghua University, Shanxi, urbanization, APEC Summit, Beijing, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, Los Angeles, California, US EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, London, guilty chimneys, corruption, transparency, ; "Under the Dome "; Global Environmental Justice,women,gender,

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