The Anti-Pollution Documentary That's Taken China By Storm : Parallels A prominent journalist with a sick child quit her job and produced an eye-opening look at the consequences of China's air pollution problem. Some 200 million have watched it since the weekend.
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The Anti-Pollution Documentary That's Taken China By Storm

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The Anti-Pollution Documentary That's Taken China By Storm

The Anti-Pollution Documentary That's Taken China By Storm

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's one thing for a video that's, say, a minute long to go viral. Well, in China, a documentary that runs 104 minutes is gripping the nation. It's about China's severe air pollution. The film has been viewed more than 200 million times since this past weekend. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing on the woman behind this Internet sensation.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Chai Jing was an investigative reporter and anchor at state broadcaster China Central Television. Last year, she quit her job to take care of her daughter who was treated for a benign tumor. In the documentary, she describes how difficult it was to explain to her daughter why she shouldn't go outdoors.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "UNDER THE DOME: INVESTIGATING CHINA'S SMOG")

CHAI JING: (Speaking foreign language through interpreter) In Beijing in 2014, I could only take her out when the air was good. There were 175 polluted days last year. That means that for half of the year, I had no choice but to keep her at home, shut in like a prisoner.

KUHN: Chair used $160,000 of her own money to make the documentary. It's called "Under The Dome," the same title as a Stephen King novel.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "UNDER THE DOME: INVESTIGATING CHINA'S SMOG")

JING: (Speaking foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language).

KUHN: Chai Jing asks some tough questions about the politics and economics behind the smog. She interviews local officials who protect polluting industries because they create jobs. Chai doesn't explicitly criticize China's model of economic development, nor does she call for China's leaders to be held accountable for their policies. She makes it clear, though, that pollution is one cost of rapid industrialization that China can no longer put off paying.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "UNDER THE DOME: INVESTIGATING CHINA'S SMOG")

JING: (Speaking foreign language through interpreter) Ten years ago, I asked what that smell in the air was and I got no answer. Now, I know. It's the smell of money.

KUHN: In the film, Chai travels to Los Angeles and London to learn how those cities cleaned up their air. She concludes that China can do it too and that its citizens should get involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "UNDER THE DOME: INVESTIGATING CHINA'S SMOG")

JING: (Speaking foreign language through interpreter) Even the strongest governments on Earth cannot clean up pollution by themselves. They must rely on each ordinary person like you and me, on our choices and our will.

KUHN: Ma Jun agrees. He's director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. He calls Chai's documentary a wake-up call for China, comparable to "An Inconvenient Truth," the 2006 documentary about climate change. He explains why China's government has so far not silenced Chai.

MA JUN: (Speaking foreign language through interpreter) One reason such a hard-hitting film that touched on deeply rooted problems was allowed to be widely disseminated is its positive direction, which gives people hope and confidence.

KUHN: Chai has declined interview requests except for one, from the website of the official People's Daily newspaper. That website aired the documentary until Wednesday, when it disappeared without explanation. It's still viewable elsewhere in China. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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