Chinese director Jia Zhangke challenges end to air pollution in new short film

Press release - 2015-01-22
Beijing, 22 January 2015 -  One of China’s most celebrated filmmakers, Jia Zhangke, today released a short film commissioned by Greenpeace East Asia tackling the health effects of air pollution on Chinese families. The film challenges China to take action to solve the crisis, as new data released by the environmental organisation shows over 90% of the 190  cities to report data in 2014 are exceeding China’s own limit on yearly average level for particulates (PM2.5) in the air (1).

“I wanted to make a film that enlightens people, not frightens them. The issue of smog is something that all the citizens of the country need to face, understand, and solve in the upcoming few years,” said Jia.

Jia’s films have won various awards on the international film festival circuit, including in Venice and in Cannes, for their depiction of contemporary Chinese society.

“I started noticing the smog issue back in the 90s, but back then there was no such a word as ‘smog’. I just felt that the air was really terrible, dust flying all over the place, making people’s everyday lives really inconvenient. Then I came to live in Beijing. Smog became an important issue in people’s lives here, especially in winter,” said Jia, whose father died from lung cancer in the coal rich province of Shanxi.

“During shooting [Smog Journeys], the one thing that fascinated and shocked me the most was the fact that even on smoggy days, people still lived their lives as usual.”

Jia’s short film traces the lives of two families in Hebei Province and Beijing – one a mining family and the other a fashion designer in the capital. Coal consumption in Hebei province, which borders Beijing, reached 313 million tons in 2012, and is a major contributor to smog: of the 10 cities with the worst PM2.5 air pollution, seven of them were in Hebei(2).

According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), cities in China’s Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region suffer over 100 haze days every year, with PM2.5 concentration two to four times above the World Health Organization guidelines. In 2010 in Beijing alone, PM2.5 pollution could be attributed to 2,349 deaths.

“Clean air is a basic necessity for healthy living. It’s sad if children grow up with more smog than clean air and blue skies, as depicted in Jia’s film. Bringing back clean air needs to be a priority and it requires urgent action. Greenpeace calls on the government to take immediate steps to safeguard the health of its citizens, cut coal and shift towards cleaner renewable energy,” said Yan Li, Head of Climate and Energy at Greenpeace East Asia.

China’s top leaders have issued a “war against pollution” and a national plan to improve air quality in the country in late 2013. In the short-term, Greenpeace calls for stronger enforcement of national and local action plans including shutting down the dirtiest industries, reducing local coal use, encouraging solar and wind power uptake, as well as better policy to protect vulnerable populations during heavy pollution days.

(1) & (2):  Greenpeace and the China Air Quality Index collected the PM2.5 values every hour of every day from the national air quality monitoring sites in cities that are publishing information on the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s platform. The average annual concentration of PM2.5 in these 190 cities in 2014 was 60.8 micrograms/m3 with only 18 of those meeting the national Class II standard of 35 micrograms/m3. Of the 10 cities with the worst PM2.5  air pollution, seven of them were in Hebei province.

(3) ‘Dangerous Breathing’ is a 2012 report that studied the health risks and economic loss linked to PM2.5 in four major Chinese cities:

Media Contact:
Tristan Tremschnig, Global Communications Strategist, Greenpeace East Asia

Faye Li, Communication officer, Greenpeace East Asia