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Beijing Besieged By Waste

View on The Global Environmental Justice site

This film was selected by Ken Berthel, Assistant Professor of Chinese, Whittier College.

Why I chose this film
Beijing Besieged by Waste exposes the largely hidden and unknown dark side of the glamour, bright lights and and architectural brilliance of rapidly developing Beijing as it becomes an international city. Wang reveals the lack of strategy and foresight in dealing with the concomitant waste that now surrounds the city, poisons essential and scarce natural resources, and fosters a dystopian landscape where some rural people still try to eke out a living. The film effectively calls attention to an ecological and social crisis that was increasing day by day.

This exploration of the ecological disaster resulting from this rampant dumping of waste in the greater Beijing metropolitan area will find relevance in a number of courses on topics as varied as environmental studies, sociology, anthropology, urban studies, and film, among others.

Teacher's guide
Please see the teacher's guide for maps and background information and suggested subjects, questions and activities.

While China’s economic ascent commands global attention, less light has been shed upon the monumental problem of waste spawned by a burgeoning population, booming industry and insatiable urban growth. Award-winning photographer and director Wang Jiu-liang focuses his lens on the grim spectacle of waste, detritus and rubble unceremoniously piled upon the land surrounding China’s Olympic city, capital and megalopolis, Beijing. The film depicts the decimation of once-essential rivers and farmlands in the backdrop of gleaming high-speed trains, stadiums and skyscrapersWang’s film reveals a sinister cyclical pattern of construction, consumption, and garbage. But it also provides moving images of the daily lives of the scavengers who live in the wastelands of Beijing.

Environmental Justice Focus
The film highlights a subculture of rural people who, displaced by lack of economic viability in their native regions yet unable to obtain government permission to live in the city, seek to make a life among the toxic and foul waste dumps that surround Beijing. The failure to develop the city of Beijing in a manner that responsibly deals with the problem of waste management has created an ecological and social disaster that creates a stark and alarming disparity between those who live in the cosmopolitan luxury of Beijing’s new developments and those who inhabit its fetid and dystopic periphery. 

"Wang Jiuliang was the first to expose the city's little-known Seventh Ring Zone garbage dumps."—Liu Jingsong, TIME Magazine

"An example of the power of cinematic reportage in China today."—Asian Educational Media Service

"Its focus is clear eyed and frank. The shots of people working-and living-in the often-illegal garbage dumps are routinely heartbreaking."—Planning Magazine

"It is very important work, a milestone."—Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs

"After three years of filming—and 9,300 miles on his motorbike—[director Wang Jiuliang] marked on Google maps all the dumps he found. At the end, he produced 'Beijing Besieged by Waste.' Before [the film's release], few Chinese thought about where the waste went. The scenes of people and sheep grazing through the piles of garbage, and of trucks apparently dumping whatever they like with no authorities in sight, were a shock."—The New York Times


Main credits

Wang, Jiuliang (film director)
Wang, Jiuliang (narrator)

Other credits

Camera, Fan Xuesong, Liu Ke, Cao Chenhui; editing, Wang Jiuliang, Zhu Rikun; music, Wen Bin.


Plastic waste; WANG Jiuliang; recycling; global waste; garbage; dGenmerate Films; "Beijing Besieged by Waste"; Icarus Films; "Beijing Besieged By Waste"; Global Environmental Justice;

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