Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Zhou Xiang: Green Activism in China, 'The Grassroots Way'

Green Anhui director Zhou Xiang. (Asia Society Northern California)

Green Anhui director Zhou Xiang. (Asia Society Northern California)

Warriors of Qiugang

Have average Chinese people heard of your movie?

Yes, many have, especially people with environmental interests. Government officials have, too. [Laughs.]

When Warriors of Qiugang began filming, how was it received by the villagers? Were they suspicious of you in any way?

When we started out, the villagers thought the movie director, Ruby Yang, and her cohort were reporters. The villagers hoped to expose what was going on and attract the government's attention. So from the beginning, the villagers were very supportive. When they realized we were making a movie they were happy because in the end, this is a problem that the government does want to solve. The governmental departments all handled it differently, though. Some of the departments were not too pleased. But the environmental ministry really liked it, because the villagers' success was also a success for them. The villagers had been hoping that someone would pay attention to them, so they do not fear the media!

So did the villagers see the movie?

Yes, they saw it. They thought it was pretty interesting. They smiled a bit and cried a bit — because during the time it took to make this movie, some of the villagers died. Some of the people we interviewed died; you can see it mentioned at the end of the movie.

In Warriors of Qiugang, village leader Zhang Gongli goes to Beijing to attend a conference and also to appeal to the higher authorities about Qiugang's issue (a common undertaking known as shang fang, 上访). The video shows several people at the conference passionately discussing environmental issues, in particular the role of law and authority. Can you tell us about what Zhang Gongli did in Beijing?

He went to shang fang, but he also went to join a conference. The conference was a meeting of NGOs in Beijing, environmental activists, and many village leaders like Zhang Gongli who were victims of pollution. He had already appealed to some authorities in the Anhui province city of Bengbu, and the next step was to shang fang in Beijing as well. We told him about a conference and helped him get there. The goal was to study how to protect oneself and one's environmental rights and interests.

Do you think the Qiugang story is the norm or the exception? And when people shang fang, do they usually succeed [as Zhangli did]?

Some win, some lose, and I'd say that there are fewer wins than losses. Many will not succeed because they do not have a method or a foundation [base, not NGO]. Even though the Qiugang documentary is only 39 minutes long, you can see that we used a lot of different tools. For instance, we used the media. We had the elementary school children write essays [to newspapers about the environmental situation of their town].

You guys orchestrated that activity?

[Laughs.] Yes, that was one of the activities we planned. This is a long-term project that we started in 2006. We spent four years on Qiugang's pollution issues – a very long time. They had stand-out community leaders, like Zhang Gongli. We also had overseas support. So I think the success of Qiugang is not inevitable, because there are a lot of contributing factors. But China's environmental activities must have the support of the media, NGOs, and community leaders in order to succeed.

Is the Jiucailuo company [the chemical factory that was shut down] still polluting?

After it closed, it was moved to a chemical-factory district. There are a lot of companies together there, and no residents. There is also a water treatment facility there, and it cleans up the water. If they start to pollute again, [laughs] we'll just go back and do it again!

Would you sue them?

In China, we don't really sue. We use the media. We will write a report and give it to the government. We won't use a lawyer until the last minute.