A popular Chinese documentary film on the air pollution choking major cities was scrubbed from websites even as President Xi Jinping pledged to unleash an iron hand to protect the environment.
“Under the Dome” which was viewed by more than 100 million people in the week since 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 -- where Xi made his pledge.
“We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing comments yesterday at a meeting of NPC deputies from Jiangxi Province.
The film was produced and financed by former China Central Television reporter Chai Jing after she became concerned about the health impacts of pollution when her infant daughter needed surgery to remove a benign tumor. Some government officials openly praised the film after its release, with environment minister Chen Jining comparing it to “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s 1962 take on the environmental damage wrought by the U.S. chemical industry that spurred a nationwide ban on the use of DDT in agriculture.
Chen who speaks at the meeting of the legislature at 3 p.m. today in Beijing said earlier this week that he sent Chai a text message to express his gratitude as she “raised public attention on the environment,” according to the official Xinhua News agency.
The full-length video couldn’t be found on streaming sites where it once appeared such as Youku.com, sohu.com and qq.com. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that the film had been pulled from websites on orders of the government, citing people familiar with the matter. Two calls to the spokesman’s office of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, weren’t answered. Calls to Youku.com’s corporate number went unanswered while a person who wouldn’t give her name on Youku’s customer hotline said that the video wasn’t available on its service.
Air pollution has become a focus of public discourse in China in the past few years as thick smog has blanketed large swathes of the country, with many residents of cities such as Beijing and Shanghai regularly wearing masks to try to protect 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 China’s National Bureau of Statistics last week.
The dominance of PetroChina Co., the country’s biggest oil and natural gas producer, and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., Asia’s biggest refiner, was cited by the documentary as a key reason the country has been slow to produce more clean energy. Calls by Bloomberg to the two companies weren’t answered after business hours Friday.