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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. 

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