Waking the Green Tiger: Documentaries from the Front Lines of China’s Environmental Crisis

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Inviting a discussion of China’s environmental problems beyond gaping at smoggy photos of Beijing, Asia Society presents Waking the Green Tiger: Documentaries from the Front Lines of China’s Environmental Crisis, a five-film series that highlights the personal and social impacts of environmental issues resulting from China’s modern-day development.  These rarely screened films by independent documentary filmmakers span rural and urban cultures and lament loss of culture and pollution but also cherish and encourage activism.

“There is no long-term challenge to China more grave than the effect of development on its environment. This wonderful mini-festival of films graphically highlights both the magnitude of this challenge and some of the people seeking to find remedies,” says Orville Schell, Asia Society’s Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations.

“Independent documentarians have revealed many urgent social and political issues in a fast-transforming China in the past two decades. This series not only highlights filmmakers who work on the environmental front line but it also features environmentalists who believe in the power of film to tell their stories,” says La Frances Hui, Film Curator at Asia Society.

All screenings will be in Chinese or Tibetan with English subtitles and will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker or a featured subject.

August 18, 20, 25, and 27
Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue
Free, but registration required


Waking the Green Tiger 
Dir. Gary Marcuse. Canada/China. 2011. 78 min. Chinese with English subtitles.
Monday, August 18, 2014, 6:30 pm

Courtesy of Waking the Green Tiger and Asia Society

Courtesy of Waking the Green Tiger and Asia Society

Thanks to a 2004 environmental law that allowed citizens a voice in government projects, a grassroots campaign successfully stopped a plan to dam the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province that would have displaced 100,000 people.  Waking the Green Tiger chronicles their efforts and also examines, with archival footage never seen outside of China, Chairman Mao’s massive projects to harness and conform nature for human benefit.

EarthRights International says “Waking the Green Tiger captures the excitement of grassroots campaigners tirelessly fighting to protect human rights and the environment. It is a celebration of the movement’s progress in China, and a reminder of the importance of this work.”

Q&A featuring Shi Lihong, an environmental activist who contributed footage and is interviewed in this film, moderated by Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society and a reception will follow.

Waking the Green Tiger – Trailer:


Discussion: Plastic China
Dir. Wang Jiuliang. Work-in-progress forthcoming late 2014. (Excerpted scenes and discussion with the director)
Wednesday, August 20, 2014, 6:30 pm

Courtesy of Wang Jiuliang/Plastic China and Asia Society

Courtesy of Wang Jiuliang/Plastic China and Asia Society

Of the 460 landfills around Beijing that he documented from 2008 to 2011, photographer and filmmaker Wang Jiuliang (王久良) says they are “like a mirror; they reflect the high rate of expansion of the city.”  His work earned him the  top prize at the 2009 Lianzhou International Photography Festival and was the basis of the award-winning film Beijing Besieged by Waste (垃圾围城) (trailer).  More importantly, it served a civic duty and prompted the Beijing municipal government to invest 10 billion RMB to regulate the waste disposal industry.

In the upcoming documentary Plastic China, Wang looks at the human and environmental cost of imported plastic waste sent to China for recycling.  He said after learning that American recyclables were sent to  China for processing, “I am sure if the sorted items were good or no harm for the environment, they [the Americans] would keep it in their home country”

Director Wang Jiuliang will screen highlights from the forthcoming Plastic China and discuss his experience documenting the handling of domestic and imported waste. Q&A moderated by La Frances Hui, Film Curator, Asia Society and a reception to follow.

Profile of Wang by China Daily:

ChinaFile’s interview with Wang:


A Farmer’s Struggle
Dir. Zhao Liang. China. 2009. 30 min. Chinese with English subtitles.
Yak Dung
Dir. Lanzhe. China. 2010. 50 min. Tibetan with English subtitles. 50 min.
Monday, August 25, 2014, 6:30 pm

Courtesy of Yak Dung and Asia Society

Courtesy of Yak Dung and Asia Society

This double-feature looks west to rural areas of the country where environmental changes and modernization is changing people’s ways of life.  A Farmer’s Struggle looks at how how encroaching desertification has affected an aging farmer and his wife, the sole inhabitants of a village in Minqin, Gansu province, whose other residents were enticed by the government to move to Xinjiang.   Yak Dung explores modernization on the Tibetan Plateau through the eyes of first-time director Lanzhe who learned filmmaking through “Eyes of the Village Nature and Culture” workshops organized by the Shanshui Conservation Center, an environmental NGO that trains and empowers amateurs to make films to document lives in their own habitats.

Q&A to follow with Sun Shan, former Director of the Shanshui Conservation Center. Moderated by Michael Zhao, Multimedia Producer, Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society.


The Last Moose of Aoluguya
Dir. Gu Tao. China. 2013. 100 min. Chinese with English subtitles.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014, 6:30 pm

Courtesy of Last Moose of Aoluguya and Asia Society

Courtesy of Last Moose of Aoluguya and Asia Society

In this third film of a trilogy following the semi-nomadic Ewenki minority group (鄂温克族 / 鄂溫克族) whose ways and existence were uprooted when the Chinese government banned hunting and relocated them to a reservation, filmmaker Gu Tao wanders with Weijia whose drunken musings about the past reveal his despair at the loss of the Ewenkis’ habitat and culture.

Q&A to follow with cinematographer Zhao Jiewei. Moderated by La Frances Hui, Film Curator, Asia Society.

Image: Courtesy Ma Jun Photo (马军照片) and Asia Society