'Under the Dome' may not be independent: Lee

'Under the Dome' may not be independent: Lee

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The investigative documentary "Under The Dome" presented by former Chinese state-owned CCTV journalist Chai Jing has taken the Internet by storm, receiving millions of views and comments by netizens since it was originally posted on Feb. 28.

Different versions of the video have been posted on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, Youku, China's version of YouTube and Tencent.

A version with English subtitles has even been uploaded onto YouTube. The film has only been distributed online.

According to reports, the timing of the coincides with China's "two meetings" - the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress meeting - scheduled for March 3 and March 5 respectively.

Chinese state-owned media outlet Xinhua News Agency said that top government officials will be unveiling the 2015 GDP growth target and discussing other economic issues at the meeting.


Chai's inspiration for "Under The Dome" came after her daughter was born with a benign tumour, which Chai suspected had a direct relation to China's toxic air.

Using multimedia video clips, infographics and animations, Chai dived into the dangers of smog in China's developing cities through a presentation style similar to a TED talk.

High Expectations

After watching the film, Taiwan's award-winning independent director and documentary filmmaker Lee Hui-ren said that Chai diminished the problem she was originally trying to investigate.

"As an investigative journalist, I had higher expectations for the film," said Lee.

In Lee's opinion, "Under the Dome" introduced China's smog problem and then glanced over the culprits liable by transferring the responsibility onto the citizens through the film's advisory for citizens to do their part in combating the harmful haze.

"If we watch an investigative piece, we should be able to figure out the problem and who is directly responsible," said Lee.

A former journalist at Public Television Service , Lee started his independent documentary career in 2004 after filming an expose on the how the government was covering up the H5N2 avian flu outbreak.

He broadcast his film online since broadcasters were wary of airing a programme that criticised the government, said Lee.

The Value of Independent Productions

Since China's media is closely state monitored, Lee questioned Chai's production budget and whether groups trying to convey a political viewpoint funded her.

The extravagance of the production raised questions about whether it is truly an independent documentary, said Lee.

In his experience, Lee has had a difficult time finding Taiwanese government officials willing to speak on camera, which is why he found it suspicious when Chai was able to show interview clips with various top Chinese officials.

Lee said he predicts that even the archival footage used by Chai must have needed clearance from the government.

Despite the possibility of "Under the Dome" having an underlying political bias, the film does inform the general population on the issue of China's toxic smog problem, Lee said.

Model to Learn From

Lee praised Chai for her presentation skills in the film and said that Taiwanese presenters can learn from Chai's public speaking technique.

Chai's voice, expressions and charisma are significant factors in her ability to persuade the audience, Lee said.

The film is certainly a breakthrough for China, though he worries it may be the last that audiences will see an investigative documentary criticising the country, Lee said.

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