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Waking the Green Tiger

View on The Global Environmental Justice site


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

Why I selected this film

Waking the Green Tiger frames the unprecedented success of a grassroots environmental movement as a pivotal moment in the context of the detrimental environmental practices of the recent past, suggesting that this success might represent a foothold for a more burgeoning democratic movement. The film can serve as an excellent jumping-off point for a number of important topics, including environmental justice, political activism, Chinese environmental history, and the power of documentary filmmaking.

Marcuse’s film will appeal to educators who wish to focus on environmental justice, tensions between rising demands for energy and environmental protection, and the power of grassroots movements to effect unexpected outcomes in political contexts as challenging as the one in contemporary China. Waking the Green Tiger will be relevant for courses in environmental studies, Chinese cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, political science, law, and film, among others.

Teacher's guide

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


Seen through the eyes of activists, farmers, and journalists, Waking the Green Tiger follows an extraordinary campaign to stop a massive dam project on the Upper Yangtze River in southwestern China that would displace 100,000 people.

Featuring astonishing archival footage never seen outside China and interviews with witnesses and a government insider, the documentary also tells the history of Chairman Mao’s campaigns to conquer nature in the name of progress.

An environmental movement takes root when a new environmental law is passed, and for the first time in China’s history, ordinary citizens have the democratic right to speak out and take part in government decisions. Activists test this new freedom and save a river. The movement they trigger has the potential to transform China.

The environmental justice focus of the film

The film deals with questions of individual and local group agency over the environmental conditions in which they live, with reference to associated tensions that arise among farmers, non-governmental organizations,hydroelectric power profiteers, and government agencies.

October 2020:
For an update on the current status of dam construction and the obstacles faced by NGOs on the upper Yangtze see

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