Feature image: Chai Jing in Under the Dome

Few documentary makers anywhere the world would dare dream of attracting 300 million viewers – especially for an exclusive online release. Fewer still would imagine reaching an audience of that size within a week. Yet according to some news reports, that was the scale of Chai Jing’s audience for Under the Dome (Qiongding zhixia, 2015), a self-funded documentary on China’s chronic air pollution released across multiple websites in the People’s Republic on 28 February this year. 1 These figures are based on the number of “clicks” the video received online, which is of course not necessarily the same thing as the number of discrete viewers. We also do not know how many people watched all 104 minutes of the film. The click rates certainly suggest, however, that tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Chinese people watched at least part of Under the Dome in a very short period, before it was systematically removed from websites inside China’s Great Firewall around 7 March (the English-subtitled version is still available on YouTube, which is blocked in China). 2

Many Western news reports compared Under the Dome to the Al Gore-narrated climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006) 3, with both films drawing on the format of “TEDx” talks by notable thinkers and innovators, sponsored by the non-profit organisation the Sapling Foundation. These talks have achieved widespread popularity through their dissemination online since 2006. 4 Another frequent point of comparison with Chai’s film was Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, a bestseller that drew attention to the toxic effects of unrestrained pesticide use in the post-war period. 5 While the influence of Al Gore’s TEDx-style film in particular is obvious, these international analogies elide Under the Dome’s relationship to a range of Chinese documentary traditions little known in the West, including a long-standing expository documentary lineage and a more recent history of personalised, activist work. Chai Jing’s film is notable for its online release, viral impact and the sheer scale of its viewership, but it is not without local precedent. Understanding the local context from which Under the Dome has emerged helps us grasp the long, complex and ongoing interplay between documentary images, state controls and public opinion in China during the post-Mao reform era – an interplay in which Under the Dome is but the latest instalment.

A Calculated Intervention

Under the Dome opens with a graph charting Beijing’s horrific air pollution in January 2013, and Chai Jing’s voice explaining the chart’s content. We then see her strolling across a stage in front of a screen as the lights come up, intercut with overhead shots of a large studio audience she is addressing. Throughout Under the Dome, Chai uses the screen to display various other graphs, charts and quotes to support her verbal claims about China’s shocking levels of pollution, its myriad causes and some possible solutions. The screen also punctuates her talk with what are essentially a series of short films within the feature documentary, explaining particular points through news-style reportage, narrated animations, and interviews with various academics, industrial chiefs and government officials.

Chinese documentary

Chai Jing in Under the Dome

Chai maintains a rapid pace and an emotive tone carefully gauged to elicit maximum engagement from a Chinese audience. The film opens and closes, for example, with appeals to the familial bonds that remain particularly strong in China, as she reflects on becoming pregnant during the period of extreme pollution across China in early 2013. Her child was discovered to have a benign tumour in utero that required life-threatening surgery as soon as she was born. It was this incident, Chai claims, that set her thinking seriously about what pollution was doing to Chinese people’s health.

The film goes on to identify some of the key structural reasons for the intensity of China’s pollution levels, including an overreliance on overproducing heavy industries like steel making, and an impotent Ministry of Environmental Protection powerless to enforce China’s theoretically excellent environmental regulations. Chai does not shy away from outlining the illegal activity by state-owned corporations that underlies the disastrous environmental situation, but nor does she oversimplify the difficulty of trying to feed and employ 1.3 billion people while preserving air, water and soil quality. Where Chai does draw her punches is in failing to acknowledge the authoritarian, one-party state that underpins the corporate oligarchy controlling the Chinese economy.

In its reliance on the spoken word and use of images to support and substantiate the narration’s claims, Under the Dome draws on some aspects of what Bill Nichols calls the “expository mode” of documentary, an approach that “gives priority to the spoken word to convey the film’s perspective from a single, unifying source” in order to “facilitate comprehension.” 6 Although the expository style is typically associated with disembodied “voice-of-God” style narrations, rather than Chai’s more personalised approach, in constructing her film as an illustrated lecture Chai is drawing on a very long history of didactic verbal address in Chinese documentary. During the Maoist era of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, for example, the expository mode was employed to the exclusion of almost any other, to convey “authoritarian government declarations, deceptions and formulations” via hectoring, monological voiceovers carefully aligned with the position of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 7

Although the overtly ideological tone of Chinese documentaries lessened considerably following Mao’s death in 1976, the expository mode continued to dominate the form as it moved to television screens in the 1980s. This was the era of “special topic films” (zhuantipian), multi-part series focused on various aspects of ancient Chinese history and culture, with titles such as Once Upon the Yangtze River (Huashuo Changjiang, Dai Weiyu, 1983) and Thousand Miles of Coastline (Wanli haijiang, Gao Feng, 1988). Television documentary styles have diversified considerably since that time, but the expository mode remains common, particularly when the party-state seeks to impart specific ideological messages. The recent series 50 Years of Democratic Reform of Tibet (Xizang minzhu gaige wushi nian, Li Xingyan, 2009), for example, used an expository approach to narrate Tibet’s journey out of feudal darkness under communist rule, in response to the deadly anti-Chinese Lhasa riots of 2008. The expository lecture, then, is a form very familiar to Chinese audiences.

Importantly, expository documentaries have not only been used to propagate the views of the party-state – the late 1980s saw an early precursor to Under the Dome’s use of a didactic verbal address to self-consciously intervene in pressing debates of the era. The series River Elegy (Heshang, Xia Jun, 1988) was written by a group of liberal Chinese intellectuals and made by the national broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) during a period of relative liberalisation spearheaded by the reformist Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. The series was broadcast in June 1988 and provoked such public interest it was rescreened a month later. 8 The series’ narration was also published in book form. 9 Although River Elegy is a classic example of the expository mode, relying on the voice of a narrator we never see to make sense of its visual content, the series differed markedly from other Chinese documentaries produced since 1949. It appropriated the “voice-of-God” narration so long aligned with the nation and/or Party, and placed it at the service of a particular social group seeking to involve itself in arguments playing out at the highest levels of government.

Chinese documentary

The title sequence of the controversial television series River Elegy in 1988

River Elegy’s narrational voice was constructed as that of an intellectual class contending it should play a central role in determining China’s future, rather than leaving decisions entirely to the Communist Party leadership. It argued for a loosening of social, economic and ideological controls, as well as criticising many “backward” aspects of Chinese culture supposedly associated with the peasantry. It was a conscious effort by liberals within CCTV and the intelligentsia to swing public opinion behind Zhao Ziyang’s moves to introduce market mechanisms and liberalise Chinese culture. Such was the series’ impact, many hardliners squarely blamed it for provoking the nationwide protests that became known as the Tiananmen Movement the following year. 10 Following the military intervention that ended these protests on the night of June 3–4, 1989, three of the series’ writers – Su Xiaokang, Yuan Zhiming and Zhang Gang – fled the country, while others involved in the program were arrested and imprisoned. 11

Although River Elegy and the story of its reception has been suppressed in China since the military crackdown that ended the Tiananmen Movement, as a senior journalist at CCTV Chai Jing is likely aware of this history. Certainly Under the Dome resembles River Elegy to the extent that it was timed to influence government policy during a period of rising social tensions and uncertainty over future directions within the ruling elite. Under the Dome was released online just six days before the opening of the annual session of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), on 5 March 2015. Although the NPC’s main role is to rubber stamp decisions made in advance by the CCP, its annual meeting places the spotlight on the party-state’s policy directions and provokes a certain degree of discussion amongst the media, academics and the general public. Under the Dome was clearly intended to be a high profile intervention in these debates, advancing the case for the enforcement of environmental regulations and a more sustainable approach to economic development.

Unlike the CCTV-produced River Elegy, Chai Jing made her film independently, but she does appear to have enjoyed some very high level assistance, including support from the national broadcaster, where she worked until she became pregnant in 2013. 12 There was backing from another key state-owned media outlet as well – in addition to being posted on major commercial Chinese video hosting sites like Youku, Chai’s film appeared on the website of the Communist Party’s official newspaper People’s Daily, along with an interview with the director. The day after the film’s release, China’s newly appointed Minister for Environmental Protection, Chen Jining, praised Under the Dome at his first press conference and compared it to Silent Spring. 13

Yet for all this apparent official endorsement, a week after its release Under the Dome was methodically removed from all sites hosted inside China, and discussion about the film in the Chinese media ceased. Long-time China watcher Isabel Hinton argues that these events indicate a carefully calibrated governmental plan to generate “public support for policies that are already developed.” 14 While this is possible, it seems unlikely the state would use a film with the potential to provoke fundamental questions about China’s whole mode of development to garner support for moves that would almost certainly be popular anyway – public concerns about the state of the environment have been steadily growing for years, often despite state-imposed restrictions on media reportage. It is more likely that official support and subsequent censorship reflects factional conflicts and power plays within the party-state, as was the case with River Elegy’s production, release and subsequent banning back in the late 1980s. Under the Dome’s timing, content and public praising by the new environment minister certainly appeared calculated to strengthen the position of China’s chronically disempowered environmental protection agencies, against entrenched and powerful environmental abusers like the massive state-owned oil firm Sinopec.

All this is not to suggest that River Elegy and Under the Dome are not very different in important respects – indeed, divergences in the arguments they present and the manner by which the films were distributed point towards some of the profound changes that have taken place in China since the late 1980s. Where River Elegy forcefully put a case for continued opening up and market reform of the economy to break the hold of old-time communists wedded to central planning and tight social controls, Chai’s film presents a more complex argument. She believes further market reform is necessary in certain areas to break the monopoly state-owned corporations have over parts of the economy. But she also argues for restraint on the part of individuals and businesses alike, and greater regulation to protect China’s seriously degraded environment after two decades of explosive economic growth. Unlike the 1980s, many would argue that contemporary China’s key problem is not too little, but too much, industrial development.

Under the Dome also emerged from a mediascape fundamentally transformed since the early 1990s. While censorship remains pervasive, China’s official media is now highly commercialised and comprises a diversity of print titles, television programs, topics and styles far greater than what existed in the 1980s, even at the height of Zhao Ziyang’s cultural liberalisation. 15 Particularly in the early to mid-2000s, newspaper titles such as Southern Metropolis Daily (Nanfang dushi bao) and its sister publication Southern Weekly (aka Southern Weekend, Zhoumo nanfang), as well as investigative news magazines such as Caijing, forged a reputation for professional journalism that frequently exposed abuses of power and governmental cover-ups, such as the suppression of information around the SARS epidemic in 2003. 16

Investigative television programs such as Focus (Jiaodian fangtan) played a similar role in the same period. 17 From this redrawn media environment, investigative journalists and editors with high public profiles and a certain degree of public trust have emerged, such as Wang Keqin, Hu Shuli and, of course, Chai Jing.

Although critical official publications and programs have endured sustained governmental pressure and lost much of their investigative edge since the 2000s, the rise of the Internet since the turn of this century has played a crucial role in the ongoing dissemination of views, stories and cultural objects not sanctioned by the authorities. 18 For example, the circulation of vast amounts of Chinese and foreign filmic content both online and via pirate-DVDs from the early 2000s led independent documentarian Ou Ning to write of “an unprecedented image democracy” in contemporary China. 19), www.alternativearchive.com/ouning/article.asp?id=102] Although the online space, like the more critical official Chinese media, has been increasingly circumscribed by state-sponsored voices and outright censorship in recent years, the Internet not only permitted Chai Jing to disseminate Under the Dome to a massive audience without relying on older forms of broadcast media, but also provided a space for public discussion of the issues raised by the film outside officially sanctioned channels. 20 In addition, the Internet provided the kind of instant international exposure for both the documentary and the subsequent public debate that would have been impossible in the pre-Internet era.

In terms of the Chinese documentary context, there are also important differences in the way films of the 1980s like River Elegy and Under the Dome construct their expositional voices. Where the former uses a disembodied address claiming to represent the views of a whole social group desiring to lead China’s future, Chai employs a more embodied, individualised form of address to talk to her audience as fellow citizens. It is here the film echoes developments in another important component of China’s contemporary mediascape – the activist strand of filmmaking that has developed over the past decade.

The Filmmaker as Ordinary Citizen

Throughout Under the Dome, Chai is casually dressed and talks to her audience in a chatty, relaxed manner, interspersing her serious talk with moments of humour. She requires no introduction, since she is one of China’s best known and most trusted investigative journalists, and was a constant presence on local television screens until her pregnancy in 2013. She builds on this pre-existing relationship with her audience by immediately placing herself on a par with her viewers vis-à-vis knowledge of China’s pollution problem. As the film opens with a graph showing that Beijing experienced 25 days of severe smog in January 2013, we hear Chai comment:

I was in Beijing at that time, and as I looked back on this graph over the course of the year, I tried to recall the senses and emotions. But I couldn’t. At that time everyone said the haze was caused by random weather patterns. Hardly anyone took it seriously… I was right in the middle of it but I didn’t even realise.

Logically speaking, Chai’s claims here are disingenuous. Clips from her own earlier news stories later in the film reveal that she has been reporting on environmental issues since 2004. When she relates that she was “coughing so badly” she “couldn’t even sleep” during the smog of January 2013, it is hard to believe she did not realise the haze over Beijing was pollution. As a senior journalist with CCTV, Chai would also have been privy to constant directives from the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department (Xuanchuanbu) instructing the media on how to report on sensitive issues such as the environment. 21 Following on from this, Chai would also know that the belief that smog is natural haze has long been fostered by the state media for which she worked, under instruction from the authorities. 22

Chai’s opening claims are not an attempt to deflect attention from media complicity in state deceptions however. She constructs herself in the manner described above in order to align her own subjectivity with that of her intended audience – ordinary Chinese citizens who have been told for years that the dark clouds sitting more or less permanently over China’s east are nothing but fog. Having stood beside them, Chai goes on to systematically explain why Chinese citizens have been misled, and why everyone should be concerned about the toxic mix comprising China’s air.

In personalising and embodying the expository voice of her documentary, and aligning her own subjectivity with that of her audience, Chai mirrors broad global developments in documentary, especially since the 1980s, that have “emphasized personal perspectives over institutional authority.” 23 In China, this shift has been led by films produced outside official channels – particularly of an activist nature – in a small but vibrant independent production sector that has been primarily facilitated by the rise of domestic digital video technologies. 24

Although documentary making outside official channels began in China at the very end of the 1980s, Chinese academic Ying Qian traces the birth of a specifically activist strain of work to Hu Jie’s 2004 film Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul. 25 This rough hewn video, made using very basic domestic handy-cams and computer-based editing software, attempts to trace the story of a young writer executed for her opposition to Mao’s regime in 1968, through interviews with the aging men and women who knew her. I have analysed the content of this ground-breaking film in detail elsewhere, 26 but here I wish to highlight the innovative way in which the director Hu Jie positions himself as the “voice” of the film, in a manner that bears some resemblance to Chai Jing’s approach a decade later.

Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul opens with the director Hu Jie framed in mid-shot, directly addressing the viewer: “Four years ago I heard a story about a female student of Beijing University imprisoned in Shanghai Tilanqiao.” Hu then relates Lin Zhao’s efforts to keep writing in prison, often using her own blood after the authorities denied her pens and ink. “This story,” he intones, “made me decide to quit my job and to go far and wide in search of Lin Zhao’s soul.” We then cut to a series of shots taken from train windows moving across different parts of China, before we arrive at Shanghai Railway Station, and Hu’s first interview with one of Lin’s former classmates.

Chinese documentary

Hu Jie introduces his documentary Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul with a direct address to the audience

Hu’s direct address marks a break with the dominant styles in independent Chinese documentary up to that point. Most films of the 1990s and early 2000s relied on the kind of observational approach seen in a film such as Duan Jinchuan’s No. 16 Barkhor South Street (Bakuo nan jie 16 hao, 1996), or the kind of informal interviews seen in a film such as Wu Wenguang’s Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers (Liulang Beijing: zuihou de mengxiangzhe, 1990). 27 In these works filmmakers remained either completely invisible, or else were minimal onscreen presences beside the foregrounded voices of interviewees. The overall emphasis was on the detached observation of on-screen subjects.

In contrast, Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul is framed by the subjectivity of the filmmaker himself, and his admiring view of Lin Zhao’s defiance of what Hu describes as the “lies and terror” that characterised life in Mao’s China. Hu Jie represents himself as an ordinary citizen who is initially just as ignorant as his viewers about Lin Zhao’s story, and by implication the wider events of the Maoist era that impacted so brutally on her life. In the opening moments, Hu enlists his viewers on a joint journey across China to bring this buried history to light. He reappears throughout the film, sometimes sitting beside his interviewees, sometimes in voiceover explaining certain events. In the film’s final sequence, we are left as we started, with the filmmaker, as he travels to a cemetery to locate Lin Zhao’s remains after years of searching.

Hu Jie does not speak in Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul on behalf of a social group, the way River Elegy claims to speak for Chinese intellectuals. Instead, he speaks as an individualised citizen, who attempts to elicit an empathetic identification with his position rather than convince through the presentation of an explicit critical argument. Hu’s construction of himself as an embodied, questing presence that viewers are encouraged to identify with helps give Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul its emotional power and goes some way to explain the role the film has played in making Lin Zhao a touchstone for many in China’s budding activist community over the past decade, as the film has been viewed at various unofficial screenings and occasionally appeared online. 28

In the decade since Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, filmmakers such as Ai Xiaoming and Ai Weiwei have developed China’s nascent activist documentary tradition through films directly focusing on negative aspects of China’s rapid modernisation and post-socialist economy, in works such as Taishi Village (Taishi cun, Ai Xiaoming, 2005), The Central Plains (Zhongyuan jishi, Ai Xiaoming, 2006), Disturbing the Peace (Laoma tihua, Ai Weiwei, 2009) and So Sorry (Shen biao yihan, Ai Weiwei, 2011). To varying degrees, all of these films foreground the personalised voice of the filmmaker as a concerned citizen who is either directly involved in the action from behind the camera, or else actually appears on screen. They have also, like Chai, used the Internet as a means of distributing their work and generating wider public discussions about the issues they raise, despite constant censorship. 29

Chai Jing draws on this personalised documentary voice in Under the Dome and combines it with an expository approach, centring her didactic address on her own embodied onscreen presence. As already noted, through a number of methods she places herself on par with her audience in a manner reminiscent of other recent Chinese activist works, representing herself as a fellow citizen, initially ignorant about the effects of air pollution, but now eager to share the alarming implications of her research. In these ways, Chai constructs an emotionally affecting form of expository address that incorporates the influence of several strains of Chinese documentary work over the past few decades.

In 2011, another activist work appeared in China that provided a smaller-scale, but very direct precedent for Under the Dome’s release and impact – Wang Jiuliang’s Beijing Besieged by Waste (Laji weicheng). Wang is a photographer by trade, and was prompted to make his film after witnessing the appalling state of local rubbish dumps photographed for another project. Although large sections of his confronting documentary on Beijing’s waste management practices are observational in style, Wang also conveys information through a voiceover narration, anchored by his own presence in many shots before the mountains of rubbish accumulating on Beijing’s outskirts.

Chinese documentary

Wang Jiuliang making Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011)

Unofficial screenings of Beijing Besieged by Waste and a series of related photographic exhibitions aroused considerable interest in the Chinese capital during 2011, with sanctioned news publications such as Minsheng Weekly (published by the People’s Daily Group) providing coverage and detailing governmental interest in Wang’s work. 30 The director has claimed in interviews that a report on the documentary was included in an internal CCP publication that was brought to the attention of the then Premier Wen Jiabao, who later watched the film. 31 This, says Wang, led to significant improvements in Beijing’s waste management. While it is hard to substantiate these claims, the discussion generated about the city’s waste disposal arrangements in 2011 would not have escaped the Beijing-based Chai Jing’s notice.

Through these examples, we can see that Under the Dome contains clear traces of the young, activist strain of documentary making that has developed in China on the heels of Hu Jie’s pioneering work. Chai Jing’s film draws on some of the methods used in these activist documentaries to construct a personalised, embodied form of address from a Chinese citizen (the filmmaker) to a wider public of fellow citizens (the audience). She marries this personalised voice with an overtly expository approach in the shape of a fast-paced, engaging lecture, also placing the film within China’s longstanding tradition of using didactic, expository documentary films to impart ideas to a broad audience, sometimes with a view to influencing top leaders and their policy formulations.


This brief overview of local precedents to Under the Dome shows that the film, in addition to being inspired by foreign works such as An Inconvenient Truth and the TEDx Talks, has emerged from several decades of documentary activity aimed at influencing both state leaders and public opinion inside China. The film’s didactic verbal address, carefully timed release, and support from certain sections of the official media and state bureaucracy echoes River Elegy’s earlier deployment of the documentary form to intervene in public debates. More recently, an activist strain of filmmaking within China’s independent realm has foregrounded a personalised documentary “voice” embodied in the filmmaker’s onscreen presence, to forge emotive representations of public issues frequently excluded from official media. The influence of this contemporary lineage is evident in the way Chai constructs the voice of her own film in a personalised manner to achieve its rhetorical effect, and her bypassing of traditional broadcasting and film exhibition by rapidly disseminating her work on the Internet to generate online public commentary and debate.

While the local documentary context from which Under the Dome emerged has been outlined above, the film’s precise relationship to the state remains a more open question. In one sense the film sits in a growing tradition of critical Chinese documentary work concerned with exploring fault lines in the country’s stressed social fabric. Yet the circumstances of its release and apparent endorsement in some official quarters also suggest its imbrication in power plays within the ruling elite. Whatever the state’s relationship to this particular work, however, the staggering 300 million clicks the film inspired demonstrates the ongoing importance of documentary in China’s public discursive field, especially in an environment where official media and television remain so tightly controlled. The audience size also speaks of deep societal anxieties the authorities would be ill advised to ignore.

The article has been peer reviewed.
The author would like to thank the two anonymous peer reviewers for their invaluable feedback and suggestions, and Associate Professor Deng Jianguo of Fudan University for his incisive comments on an earlier draft.


  1.  See for example: Tania Branigan, “Beijing Authorities Sanguine as Pollution Documentary Takes China by Storm,” The Guardian, 6 March 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/05/beijing-sanguine-pollution-documentary-china
  2.  BBC, “China Takes Under the Dome anti-pollution film offline,” BBC.com, 7 March 2015, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31778115
  3.  See for example: Elaine Teng, “China’s Version of An Inconvenient Truth Went Viral. Now the Government is Cracking Down,” New Republic, 2 March 2015, www.newrepublic.com/article/121196/china-pollution-documentary-goes-viral-wont-affect-government-policy
  4.  The online archive of TEDx talks can be found at: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/
  5.  Rachel Carson (1962), Silent Spring (New York: Mariner Books, 2002).
  6.  Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, second edition (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010), p. 154.
  7.  Yingchi Chu, Chinese Documentaries: From Dogma to Polyphony (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 26.
  8.  Richard W. Bodman, “From History to Allegory to Art: A Personal Search for Interpretation” in Su Xiaokang and Wang Luxiang, Deathsong of the River: A Reader’s Guide to the Chinese TV Series Heshang, trans. Richard W. Bodman and Pin P. Wan (Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1991), p. 1.
  9.  River Elegy’s narration was also later published in English as Su Xiaokang and Wang Luxiang, Deathsong of the River: A Reader’s Guide to the Chinese TV Series Heshang, trans. Richard W. Bodman and Pin P. Wan (Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1991).
  10.  According to documents published in The Tiananmen Papers, an apparent compilation of secret official documents relating to the Tiananmen Square protests, Vice-President Wang Zhen included an attack on River Elegy in his denunciation of Zhao Ziyang at a Central Committee meeting on 23–24 June, 1989, following Zhao’s refusal to support the use of military forces to put down the Tiananmen Movement on the night of 3–4 June. Wang is supposed to have described the series as, “A naked attempt to push Zhao Ziyang’s authority.” Although the documents comprising The Tiananmen Papers are believed to be genuine, their authenticity has never been confirmed. Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link, eds., The Tiananmen Papers (New York: Public Affairs, 2001), p. 434.
  11.  Bodman, p. 46.
  12. Celia Hatton, “Under the Dome: The Smog Film Taking China by Storm,” BBC.com, 2 March 2015, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-china-blog-31689232
  13.  Yiqin Fu, “China’s National Conversation on Pollution Has Finally Begun,” Foreign Policy, 2 March 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/02/chinas-national-conversation-on-pollution-has-finally-begun-chai-jing-documentary/
  14.  See Isabel Hinton’s entry in “Why Has This Environmental Documentary Gone Viral on China’s Internet? – a ChinaFile Conversation,” ChinaFile.com, 3 March 2015, www.chinafile.com/conversation/why-has-environmental-documentary-gone-viral-chinas-internet
  15.  For more on China’s contemporary official media, and its complex relationship to the state and the market, see:
    Qing Liu and Barrett McCormick, “The Media and the Public Sphere in Contemporary China,” boundary 2 38:1 (2011), pp. 101–34;
    Li Xiaoping, “Significant Changes in the Chinese Television Industry and Their Impact in the PRC: An Insider’s Perspective,” paper prepared for the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institute (New York, August 2001), www.brookings.edu/fp/cnaps/papers/li_01.pdf;
    Chris Berry, “Shanghai Television’s Documentary Channel: Chinese Television as Public Space,” in TV China, Ying Zhu and Chris Berry, eds. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009), pp. 71–89.
  16.  For a detailed account for Southern Metropolis Daily’s role in exposing the SARS cover-up, see Philip P. Pan, Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China (Bassingstoke: Picador, 2009), pp. 235–8.
  17.  For a detailed and perceptive study of the content of Focus investigations during 1999, see Alex Chan, “From Propaganda to Hegemony: Jiaodian fangtan and China’s Media Policy,” Journal of Contemporary China 11:30 (2002): pp. 35–51.
  18.  For an analysis of the interplay between China’s commercialised media and the Internet, see Qian Gang and David Bandurski, “China’s Emerging Public Sphere: The Impact of Media Commercialisation, Professionalism, and the Internet in an Era of Transition,” in Changing Media, Changing China, Susan L. Shirk, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 28–76.
  19.  Ou Ning (2004), “Digital Images and Civic Consciousness,” trans. Yu Hsiao-Hwei, AlternativeArchive.org, 3 April 2006 (originally published in the Argos Festival catalogue [Brussels: 2004
  20.  For a detailed account of how the Chinese authorities censor and regulate the online space inside China, see James Fallows, “The Connection Has Been Reset,” in Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China (New York: Vintage Books, 2009), pp. 169–84.
  21.  In 2013, veteran CCTV journalist Wang Qinglei claimed that the state broadcaster received up to 1,000 directives from the Propaganda Department annually. BBC News, “Chinese Journalist Wang Qinglei Denounces Censorship,” BBC.co.uk, 3 December 2013, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-25198882
  22.  For an example of a Chinese state media report explicitly denying the presence of smog, see Jin Jianyu, “Metrological Authorities Deny Heavy Fog is Pollution,” Global Times, 5 December 2011, www.globaltimes.cn/content/687166.shtml
  23.  Nichols, p. 169.
  24.  For more on China’s vibrant independent documentary sector, see: Dan Edwards, Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015); Luke Robinson, Independent Chinese Documentary: From the Studio to the Street (Basingstoke, UK and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); and Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu and Lisa Rofel, eds., The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010).
  25.  Ying Qian, “Working with Rubble: Montage, Tweets and the Reconstruction of an Activist Documentary” in China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the Twenty-first Century, Matthew D. Johnson, Keith B. Wagner, Kiki Tianqi Yu and Luke Vulpiani, eds. (New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), pp. 183 and 192.
  26.  Edwards, pp. 77–86.
  27.  For a detailed account of the observational mode in independent Chinese documentary of the 1990s, see Robinson, pp. 45–56.
  28.  For details about the initial screenings of Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul in southern China in the mid-2000s, see Qian, fn 8, p. 194. For a report on the annual gatherings that now take place – with varying degrees of police interference – at the grave where Lin Zhao’s ashes have been interred, see Patrick Boehler, “Remembrance of Dissident Lin Zhao Obstructed on 45th Execution Anniversary,” South China Morning Post, 29 April 2013, www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1225885/remembrance-dissident-lin-zhao-obstructed-45th-execution-anniversary
  29.  For more on the relationship between activist documentary making China and the rise of the Internet, see Ou, “Digital Images”; Qian, “Working with Rubble”; and Stacy Mosher, “My Work Constitutes a Form of Participatory Action: An Interview with Ai Xiaoming,” China Perspectives 1 (2010): pp. 71–77.
  30.  Zhao Zhiwei, “Wang Jiuliang: Laji weicheng de faxianzhen” (“Wang Jiuliang: Discoverer of Beijing Besieged by Waste”), Minsheng zhoukan (Minsheng Weekly) 32 (2011), http://paper.people.com.cn/mszk/html/2011-08/08/content_894600.htm?div=-1
  31.  Christen Cornell, “The Affluent and the Effluent: Wang Jiuliang’s Beijing Besieged by Waste,” Senses of Cinema 63 (July 2012), http://sensesofcinema.com/2012/miff2012/the-affluent-and-the-effluent-wang-jiuliangs-beijing-besieged-by-waste/

About The Author

Dan Edwards is a fellow at the Research Unit in Public Cultures at Melbourne University. His debut monograph, Independent Chinese Documentary: Alternative Visions, Alternative Publics, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2015. He lived and worked in China as a magazine journalist from 2007–11, and before that worked at the Australian Film Commission. He was awarded a PhD in Film and Television from Monash University in 2014.

Related Posts